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How systemic change revitalizes communities through arts and culture

In March 2021, the National Endowment for the Arts received $135 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act to preserve and support organizations adversely affected by the pandemic. As one of the nation’s six regional arts organizations (RAOs), the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) was among the organizations that received funds to distribute to these organizations in the West. WESTAF’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) Fund for Organizations is designed to be distributed specifically to support and revitalize arts and culture organizations in underserved communities located in the 13-state WESTAF region. WESTAF’s Social Responsibility and Inclusion (SRI) division, in collaboration with GO Smart™, opened the WESTAF ARP application on July 1 and a call for panel nominations a week later.

WESTAF’s American Rescue Plan aims to distribute funding to tribal colleges and universities; American Indian and Alaska Native tribes; African American, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander serving or led institutions, and organizations that support the independence and lifelong inclusion of people with disabilities. WESTAF will more broadly support organizations that serve Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); queer and trans BIPOC; LGBTQ+ constituencies;  low-income communities; remote and rural communities (communities with fewer than 50,000 in population and isolated from metropolitan areas); individuals with disabilities; individuals in institutions; individuals below the poverty line; individuals with limited English proficiency;  veterans/active duty personnel; and opportunity youth. Through these funding distributions, WESTAF hopes to further its efforts around dismantling systemic inequities and advancing access for all.

Arts and culture traverses boundaries and reflects the plurality of our communities. Engaging with art is something we do from the moment we pick up a marker or crayon. Long before we are able to communicate verbally, many of us learn to interact through our own creative expression. While the pandemic caused a significant upheaval in all areas of our lives, the individuals and communities within the arts and culture sector have continued to express their creativity and remain resilient and strong in the face of devastating economic and health effects. 

Assistance from the American Rescue Plan will better equip small businesses to keep their doors open and help underserved communities in the recovery process. While the impact of the pandemic is still being felt throughout the sector, it is essential to look at how arts and culture enrich the lives of all individuals and build a strong foundation for a healthy, vibrant, and expressive community. Below are five key areas in which arts and culture positively impact underserved communities:

  • Social cohesion

Statistics show that areas with a successful arts scene also have thriving communities. Art offers more than enjoyment and beautification of spaces; it also offers the benefits of neighborhood livability, establishing a community identity, and providing a sense of social wellbeing and solidarity. A vibrant arts community increases both civic and social engagement.

  •  Mental health and wellbeing

In returning to a sense of normality, the arts could be more important now than ever. With positive impacts on both psychological and physiological levels, communities with a rich arts and culture sphere have reduced levels of stress and depression. As the arts reach a wide and varied audience, communities with arts or performance organizations have lower crime rates.

  • Economic growth and development

With a vast majority of the population being art enthusiasts, different creative ventures are known to attract tourists and increase the number of employment opportunities and economic enterprises. Through the impact of the arts in lowering both poverty and unemployment rates, the arts have the power to increase the quality of life in underserved communities and add to a feeling of community involvement.

  • Academic performance

Much research has been done on the connection between the arts and overall academic performance; strong evidence exists that supports the idea that including arts in the educational experiences of youth produces positive results for both academic and social advancement. Schools with arts classes available have a higher attendance rate than those that don’t have similar programs.

  • Cultural identity and heritage

Arts communities are often the center of a community’s cultural life, and the arts play a vital role in preserving a region’s identity and cultural heritage. Artistic impressions throughout history give new generations the ability to explore a time that may otherwise be lost. Arts and cultural organizations welcome those within the community from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles, and give them a place where they can have a sense of cultural belonging.

Knowing that arts and culture play such a crucial role in our communities and economies, we are excited and humbled by the opportunity to strengthen the arts and culture sector and increase opportunities, benefits and resources for historically underrepresented communities! If you are looking for an efficient solution to amplify the impact of your grant funding, GO Smart would love to hear from you! Tell us more by reaching out to us directly, or click here to schedule a demo

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