by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal
As new policies begin to emerge to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, so too are strategies being offered to solve the accompanying economic crisis.
This week, President Trump proposed sending a $1000 check to every American to help arrest the current “panic”. However, this amount of funds, while perhaps helpful for an immediate emergency, will do little to preserve jobs or assist those who are self-employed or work in a gig economy. Should this crisis continue through the Summer or even into the Fall, the consequences, already dire, will become unimaginable.
We are already beginning to see a greater divide in this country between those who have and those who have not. Without a better planned and more comprehensive economic strategy than simply handing out minimal checks, this divide will only become greater.
In 1935, during the bleakest years of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an ambitious employment and infrastructure program. Over its eight years of existence, the WPA put roughly 8.5 million Americans to work. Perhaps best known for its public works projects, the WPA also directly sponsored projects in the arts. The WPA oversaw a group of programs collectively known as Federal Project Number One. These programs directly employed artists, musicians, dancers, actors, and writers. Roosevelt intended Federal One to put artists back to work while entertaining and inspiring the larger population by creating a hopeful view of life during a time of economic turmoil. Artists created motivational posters and painted murals of “American scenes” in public buildings. Sculptors created monuments, and actors, dancers, and musicians were paid to perform. Federal One also established more than 100 community art centers throughout the country.
Such a broad sweeping program could potentially be used to once again to restore the arts and those in a gig economy once this crisis has passed. It would ensure long term employment as opposed to the short term fleeting financial bridge currently being offered.
Another possible long term solution, especially given that interest rates have now dropped to 0%, would be to provide every self-employed and gig worker a no-interest guaranteed loan for the duration of the crisis. This loan could then be re-paid interest-free over a five to seven-year period once the COVID-19 crisis has passed. For those arts organizations with full or part-time employees, a requirement could be made that once back up and running they would restore their workforce to at least 75% or more of what it was prior to the economic crisis. The goal here would be to keep as many as possible employed as the economy begins to rebuild.
And yes, both programs suggested come with a price tag. Yes, they are subject to fraud and loans going unpaid. But the program currently suggested by Trump is just as expensive if not more so. Once that $1000 is used up, what will we then be left with? Simply sending a check to every American does not solve the problem we will be facing once the virus crisis has passed.
I am not an economist by any means, nor do I have the wherewithal to determine how either of these programs would be administered and implemented. We have some of the best economic minds in this country, who I am sure could begin to tackle these issues, slow down the impending economic crisis, and restore confidence to the public with such guaranteed employment programs.
The arts will always endure because it is a part of who we are. It goes to our core as demonstrated by the singing, dancing, and playing of music from balconies in Italy during lockdown to online broadcasts of dance classes from living rooms right here in Philadelphia by those self-quarantining.
Ultimately, once the economy is restored and artists can return to their craft, we need to have a far more serious discourse than what has occurred in the past about how the arts are funded and what we can do to prevent a re-occurrence of this economic crisis. It can not simply be back to business as usual.