Advocating for Local ARPA Funds Guide

In March 2021, President Biden signed into law the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Included in the recovery package are specific funds to support every state, city, town and Tribal government. That means that every city and town in Massachusetts will receive a portion of federal funding to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities.

Thanks to the united advocacy of artists, cultural organizations and arts supporters, $60M was recently allocated by the legislature for the arts and cultural sector. It will be distributed through a new grant program by the Mass Cultural Council.

Like the Commonwealth, cities and towns have until December 31,2024 to allocate funds and until December 31, 2026 to spend them. However, many communities are making their funding decisions RIGHT NOW. We must work to ensure cities and towns allocate a portion of their funding to the recovery and stabilization of the arts and cultural sector.

But what happens if the process is less than transparent or your advocacy is met with opposition? Below are some important tips, tricks and recommendations to aid you and other local advocates in your work.


When approaching local government officials, be confident that ARPA funds can be used for the arts and cultural sector. The U.S Treasury published guidance on the criteria and eligible uses of ARPA funds.

ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) may be used to address the following:

  • Respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic, by supporting the health of communities, and helping households, small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits, and the public sector recover from economic impacts.
  • Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services up to the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic.
  • Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors.
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, to support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand affordable access to broadband internet.

Artists, cultural nonprofits and arts businesses are an eligible group under the first provision as a sector economically impacted by the pandemic.

Eligible uses for the funds under this criteria include supporting programs, services, loans and grants that:

  • Mitigate financial hardship including declines in revenue, periods of business closure or technical assistance
  • Cover capital expenditures including rehabilitation of commercial properties, storefront and façade improvements
  • Support business incubators, grants for start-ups
  • Assistance to nonprofit organizations to mitigate financial hardship.
  • Assistance to tourism, travel, hospitality, and other impacted industries including support for payroll costs, compensating returning employees, support for operations and maintenance of existing equipment and facilities and technical assistance

Above you will note that the Treasury specifically identified tourism, travel and hospitality industries as impacted sectors eligible for funds. We know that artists, cultural nonprofits and arts businesses are key to Massachusetts’ tourism and hospitality sector.

Arts and cultural communities should be a strong component of all local tourism and hospitality ARPA funding strategies.

Local governments will have choices to make when allocating funds. Making the case for why arts and cultural recovery should be a priority is the next step in the advocacy process. Below are five messages for why the arts and cultural sector recovery is essential to every city and town:

  1. Arts, culture and creativity promote interaction with people, reduces social isolation and builds stronger relationships. Throughout the pandemic, arts organizations found creative ways to keep people connected. As we emerge from the pandemic cities and towns will need concrete ways to reconnect. Creative experiences provide this reconnection.
  2. Arts, culture and creativity elevates diverse voices and perspectives, celebrating local culture, telling the stories of the people and places in the community.
  3. By creating jobs in every city and town, arts and cultural industries drive economic revitalization, increase property values and reverse “brain drain” by providing opportunities for young people.
  4. Arts and creativity create the kinds of communities people are proud to call home and where young people choose to stay and build families. 
  5. In rural communities and cities alike, arts, culture and creativity play key roles in tourism economies, drawing people to events and experiences and powering small businesses including lodging and dining. 
    • While often focused on main streets and downtown areas, the ripple effect of these activities benefit all residents in the town or city by pumping spending into the city, supporting local businesses and putting your city or town on the map.

When using any one of these messages, you must identify examples in your own community that illustrate the point.

  • Is there a popular art festival, cultural celebration or creative experience that drove visitors to your community before March 2020.
  • Are there key arts and cultural organizations that connect your community?
  • Do public art activities introduce new people to your community and help residents better understand their neighbors by amplifying their lived experiences?
  • Do Create Youth Development organizations support the development, leadership and community pride of young people in your town?

Crafting your communications around specific, local examples help personalize the messaging points.

Looking for more messaging frameworks and ideas? Check out the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies’ Arts and Creativity Strengthen Our Nation guide and the Creating Connection messaging tools and framework.

With diverse and large constiences communicating regularly, local officials can often overlook the message of one advocate for arts and cultural recovery. However, overlooking multiple calls, emails and visits for a group of advocates is much harder.

That's why we encourage local advocates to work together. This includes developing template emails, phone scripts and talking points that can be shared with your network to ensure elected officials are hearing a unified message from the arts and cultural community.

Artists, creative communities, and cultural organizations have a built in networks of audiences, members and people served. These are your most passionate supporters and advocates. Send a note to let your subscribers, donors and booster know of upcoming advocacy opportunities makes a big difference when working to build support for your cause. Activate your social media platforms - and those that follow you - by recording a short video explaining this issue and your call to action.

The media can be helpful in your efforts as well. Letters to the editor are a quick way to get your message out there and rally neighbors to your cause. In addition to submitting a letter introducing your advocacy message, keep a look out for articles on local ARPA plans and submit a letter in response to these articles.

Within local government are passionate public servants and community members who care about your town. Be on the lookout for city councilors, select board members and municipal arts staff who support arts and cultural efforts in your community. Proactively reach out to these people to ask for their support AND ask them what support they need to advance arts and cultural recovery funding efforts.

For many personal and economic reasons it can be difficult to attend meetings of city councils, select boards and committees. But showing up at these events, especially when there are opportunities to speak in support of ARPA spending, makes a big difference. We consider showing up for city council meetings and reaching out directly to elected officials for in-person conversations the most effective means of advocacy.

Consider ways that your network of advocates can monitor upcoming local government meetings (by law they must be posted ahead of time) and support each other’s participation.

Document your attendance at public meetings via social media so that your followers and supporters can follow along. 

After meet with elected officials document your meeting and follow-up on any next steps suggested.

It’s easy to get discouraged, especially when the first answer is no. But remember cities and towns have until December 31 2024 to decide how to spend local ARPA funds. Many leaders are considering ways to hold back a portion of ARPA funds to address upcoming challenges. So just because the arts and cultural sector are not included in a first spending plan, there may be more opportunities to advocate.

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published this page in News and Views 2022-02-11 09:01:02 -0500

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