Congressman Peter Welch met virtually with leaders of cultural organizations in Vermont on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing impacts and challenges they face as they emerge from the pandemic.
The Democratic representative from Vermont was among the earliest and strongest supporters of the Save Our Stages Act to provide federal assistance to cultural organizations during the pandemic.
Welch, who is now running for the Senate, recalled that cultural venues were the first forced to close but among the last to receive pandemic relief and reopen.
“There is more work to do. There are a lot of challenges there. But we are in a different place and we are here with the probability, with the reality, that the extraordinarily important work that you are doing for our mental health, for our economy, for our sense of our own spiritual strength, you will continue to do this work. Because the arts are about our soul, our sense of ourselves, our sense of history, our sense of connection, and our sense of self-expression. And all this is vital for everyday life.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum executive director Susan Evans McClure said they were cautiously optimistic. After being closed in 2020, McClure said he experimented with free entry last year.
“It increased our visits by about 30%. But it also demonstrated a real need in our communities to come together, to learn together. And so, what we’re working hard on is keeping that entry free. It’s more difficult but there are more reasons to do it and we are really motivated to do it. And of course, we’re still juggling that “who knows what’s next” feeling.
Inclusive Arts Vermont works with people with disabilities. Executive Director Katie Miller says they’ve had to make tough financial decisions – closing management offices and working remotely. She told the congresswoman that they are still seeing the impacts of the pandemic.
“The population we work with, people with disabilities, I would say they are still very isolated. So we are still running a combination of hybrid, in-person and remote courses to work with these people and will likely do so indefinitely. People with disabilities are still grappling with the financial impacts of the pandemic. »
Vermont Folklife Center executive director Kate Haughey said initial funding from CARES ACT helped efforts to document the experiences of Vermonters during the pandemic. She said help was needed to highlight how essential the arts are to mental health.
“We need support to spread the message that the arts are not only important for the economy and tourism, but also for mental health and well-being. And not only to share this message, but money to do research to show the impact of the arts.
Weston Playhouse executive artistic director Susanna Gellert said that while some things are improving, the next few years will be difficult.
“The pandemic continues. We have increased costs, workforce development, workforce retention, and in the specific case of affordable housing in Vermont. It all comes together in a real melting pot that gets pretty critical and at least for the performing arts as we move forward the rebuilding is going to be very difficult.
As the meeting drew to a close, Congressman Welch compared the artists’ work to the fractures occurring in the nation’s democracy.
“There is a deeper meaning to what you are doing: creating a connection between us. Not being afraid of someone different but trying to understand someone different. I think finding an empathetic pathway is absolutely vital to the well-being of this state, this country, and our democracy.
Arts organizations told Congressman Welch that flexible federal funding will be crucial for pandemic recovery.