From your perspective, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Miami-Dade County arts organizations and artists?
Eileen Higgins: The arts are an extension of the diverse and rich culture of our community. From the small independent Cuban theaters to the world renowned museums like the PAMM, our County would not be what it is without these cultural institutions. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions in place, a lot of these establishments have been closed for months. Shows and performances have been cancelled. Concerts and exhibitions postponed indefinitely. Artists and cultural “gig” workers and organizations are struggling. Local government can help cultural institutions survive this crisis.
Was there a specific moment you realized local action needed to be taken to assist specifically arts organizations?
Eileen Higgins: The moment when I realized things were going to be bad for our arts and culture is when folks were having an extremely difficult time accessing and obtaining unemployment benefits because of the state of Florida’s broken unemployment system.
I knew that we needed a local response to help our artists and our cultural “gig” workers make it through this crisis.
What was the process to advocate and finalize the release of the $10 million in CARES Act funding to Miami-Dade County Dept. of Cultural Affairs for grant distribution? How many groups are estimated to be supported by this funding and what impact do you foresee?
Eileen Higgins: Soon after the shutdown began in March, I began to regularly communicate with the arts institutions, theaters and venues in District 5. It quickly became apparent that the impacts would be devastating if the closures became prolonged.
I immediately began to follow the problems with the state’s disastrous unemployment program. Workers of all professions, including artists, gig workers, production workers and more, found it nearly impossible to access their unemployment benefits. Benefits they, like every unemployed worker, rightfully deserved. We had to act quickly to provide relief.
Working with the County’s Department of Cultural Affairs Director, Michael Spring, we developed a program that would provide relief to our arts and cultural workers, as well as our beloved institutions and venues. I was proud to sponsor the legislation creating the Miami Artists Support (MÁS) program to provide financial assistance to arts and cultural organizations, artists and arts workers that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of last week, the program had received and approved grants for 857 artists and arts workers. The Department has also already approved grants for over 100 organizations. I will continue to advocate for additional funds to be allocated from the County’s allocation of Federal CARES Act dollars. I hope the funds can go some way to helping our artists and arts workers pay rent, put food on the table, or keep their health insurance while we wait for the COVID storm to pass. I also hope the assistance for the institutions and venues can allow us to one day go back to attending the performances and visiting the exhibits we cherish.
What can an individual or arts organization do now to advocate for support of future funding and initiatives? Where and how can people get involved?
Eileen Higgins: For folks interested in advocating for the arts, I would encourage them to reach out to their County Commissioner by email or over the phone to advocate for additional CARES Act funding to support arts organizations and artists.
For folks interested in supporting the arts, I would encourage them to renew their memberships and donate to their favorite venues, where possible.
Finally, the Miami-Dade Arts Support Action Center keeps our cultural community informed about opportunities. You can subscribe to their communications to stay updated on the most recent information about the arts world in Miami-Dade.