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Letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris from AGMA President: the Arts Need Funding Now

Published January 21, 2021   |  By Musical Artists  |  Post in All Areas

"It has never been just about 'dinner and a show.' It is 'the United States Economy and a show,' as the Performing Arts in the U.S. intersects with and amplifies virtually every other facet of our economy."

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:

Congratulations on this historic moment in both of your lives, as well as our country’s. As Production Stage Manager of the Metropolitan Opera and President of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), the labor union of professional singers, dancers, and stage staff in opera, choral performance, and concert dance, it brought me more joy than I can explain to see how you incorporated the Performing Arts throughout the Presidential Inauguration. Listening to the messages – whether they were spoken, sung, or prayed – inspired me to write this letter.

Like so many Americans, since March, AGMA Artists have been traveling through this dark time, praying for a beacon of light to guide us to better days and back to our stages. COVID-19 shuttered productions indefinitely, leaving thousands of AGMA Artists suddenly unemployed and, at first, left many without access to unemployment or even health insurance. I don’t need to tell you that the government’s emergency support of the Performing Arts industry was greatly delayed and ultimately lacked in its response to our actual need. To put it plainly, we were overlooked; overlooked by our government, the media, and even by some who considered themselves devout supporters of the Arts prior to the pandemic.

Having fundamental economic lifelines as well as basic life resources stripped away has forced some of us in the industry to leave our homes or even abandon our careers for something else altogether. The last year has taken a devastating toll on us, not just economically, but also in the immeasurable impact the virus has made on our mental health. We will return, but we will not be the same for many years - a heartbreaking prospect for those of us who have spent our lives bringing joy and art to our country.

We realize that we will likely be the last sector to return. Our work requires close, personal collaboration to create meaningful art. It also requires performing that art for large groups of audience members gathered together to share an experience, at the same time, in the same place. The damage that will continue to be done to this indispensable industry between now and our hopeful return may become irrevocable if action is not taken right now.

Our narrative hasn’t changed since the onset of the pandemic: we need help, and we need it now. One of the saddest realities of the last year has been that government did not consider the Arts “essential”. You see, for the many thousands of workers in the Performing Arts, and the millions of Americans that are impacted by it, it has never been just about “dinner and a show.” It’s “tourism and a show;” “transportation and a show;” “nightlife and a show;” “dry cleaners and a show;” “local businesses and a show;” “street vendors and a show;” “education and a show…” Essentially, it is “the United States Economy and a show,” as the Performing Arts in the U.S. intersects with and amplifies virtually every other facet of our economy.

Mr. President, during your speech, you said the “American story depends on all of us. On we the people who seek a more perfect union.” You called for unity and acknowledged the resiliency and strength of our nation and how we must get through this together. As a labor union of Artists, we practice and rely on this kind of unity and solidarity every day. 

The Performing Arts industry is a crucial piece of the machine that keeps our economy healthy and brings us together. Mr. President and Madam Vice President, you have each spoken on the importance of the Arts to our culture and the economy in the past. Yesterday, we heard music and poetry. The Performing Arts were embedded throughout a Presidential Inauguration so committed to reestablishing unity and rebuilding as a country because the Performing Arts are the timeless tool that has been used over and over again to unify and rebuild our nation. The Performing Arts are intrinsically rooted in our traditions. As long as there have been humans walking the earth, there have been Artists. The Performing Arts in the United States are a vital part of our economy and our identity and will be an essential part of our recovery and healing process as time progresses. We've seen the Arts work its magic before and, if we invest in relief for this industry and the working Artists that make it run, we will see it again. Of this I am certain.

Lastly, I wish to echo the words of my colleagues in the industry calling for an Arts and Culture leader to be added to your Cabinet. Labor is already embedded in your Cabinet, so it would be a truly unprecedented win for entertainment unions across the country if we had two voices at the table to work to enact measurable, effective, and immediate change, together.

President Biden and Vice President Harris, I wish you the very best as you begin your terms. Here’s to a “more perfect union.”

Sincerely,

Ray Menard

President, AGMA

Production Stage Manager, Metropolitan Opera