Montgomery County’s creative sector knew they would face a tough road ahead when Maryland public schools closed due to the novel coronavirus on March 12, 2020. As Governor Hogan announced each new restriction, the closing of non-essential businesses, the ban of public gatherings for more than ten people, and the stay-at-home order, the need to rapidly adapt programming and business operations became clear. In order to survive this crisis, the local community would need to rally behind the creative industries as they pivoted their businesses and individual practices on painfully short notice. And rally they did!
In just 3 weeks, over 1,000 local residents came together to raise almost $400,000 in emergency relief funds for Montgomery County’s cultural sector through Power2Give (P2G). Managed locally by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (AHCMC), P2G provides nonprofit cultural organizations with a crowdfunding service to support creative projects. As part of the initial support initiative, $200,000 in county government matching funds were released on P2G, incentivizing giving from the community and doubling the impact of donations by matching projects dollar-for-dollar for the first $5,000 in donations. Montgomery County Government’s commitment to the arts and humanities remains a crucial component of community support allowing the sector to survive today and thrive tomorrow.
Recognizing the significant impact of COVID-19 on an already vulnerable sector, AHCMC worked quickly to implement additional relief tactics to help combat the effects of the pandemic. Actions such as developing a new webpage with emergency preparation, disaster planning, and funding resources; expediting FY20 grant disbursements; relaxing award policies; extending project timelines; authorizing changes to project descriptions; and allowing flexible use of awarded funds gave AHCMC grantees the flexibility they needed to pivot programs virtually, stay more financially stable, and continue to engage residents and supporters. Additionally, AHCMC was able to distribute 40 $1,000 one-time emergency grants to all of the individual artists and scholars in their FY20 funding portfolio.
As the cultural sector began to settle into the new pandemic landscape and move past the initial panic and emergency needs, AHCMC conducted a survey to assess the financial, programmatic, and community damage of the coronavirus to the sector. That survey found that Montgomery County’s creative community expects to lose $7 million in revenue, experience $3 million in increased debt, cancel 1300 events and programs, and lay off 500 employees by June 15, 2020. Seeking to help mitigate this burden and further support their prior investment of $9.2 million in local arts and humanities, the county ensured the creative sector would be eligible for relief funding awarded through the Public Health Emergency Grant (PHEG) program. The arts and humanities are a $198 million dollar industry that supports over 4,200 jobs and contributes to the health and well-being of Montgomery County residents. Knowing this, it became crucial that the county strategically maintain their investment in an industry that will be a critical component of recovery efforts on the other side.
Audiences and community members continue to provide support in extraordinary ways every single day. Whether through participating in at-home programs and virtual events that can be found on CultureSpot.com or purchasing work from local artists and culture bearers, Montgomery County’s love of the arts and humanities is unwavering and gives hope for a brighter tomorrow. We all rally around the good stuff and in Montgomery County, the arts and humanities continue to be a priority for residents, practitioners, and government alike.