To Rebuild and Reimagine the United States Post-Pandemic, We Must Put Creative Workers to Work

This proposal was collaboratively developed by over 100 partner organizations and individuals, and has been endorsed by over 2,300 creative businesses and creative workers.

To see more detail on the proposed actions to take to address these policies, which together would put 300,000 creative workers back to work, click here. These actions were arrived at through focus groups with the signatories to the Put Creative Workers to Work proposal.

Creativity has always been essential to recovery.

To thrive post-pandemic, the United States must leverage our creative power, putting creative workers to work rebuilding, reimagining, unifying, and healing communities in every state and territory, as well as within tribal lands. Below, we propose 16 specific actions that the next Administration can take to activate the creative economy within a comprehensive national recovery strategy.

In 1935, facing 20% unemployment, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1973, at a moment of similar crisis, President Nixon signed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). These audacious federal policy efforts—one by a Democrat, one by a Republican—sparked national recovery at two crucial moments and should inspire action now.[1]

In each previous workforce effort, investment in the creative economy has proven essential. Similar investment now will heal the soul of America, create unity, expand and improve infrastructure, address community health, and drive innovation, recovery, and reimagination. The next Administration must draw upon the creative energies of the country’s 5.1 million creative workers to energize a downtrodden citizenry, reimagine how communities can thrive, and improve the lives of all. We stand ready to answer the call.[2]

Activating the creative economy to stimulate recovery just makes sense. Creative workers are a part of every local economy in the United States and, like others who are un- and underemployed, creative workers have much to offer in healing, recovery, and beyond. Paying artists and other creative workers for their contributions to the health, equity, and well-being of our communities rebuilds our economy. These workers uniquely engage communities to contribute to well-being and connectivity, reflecting back local history, amplifying the unique character of places, and renewing the civic and social lives of community members through their work. To thrive tomorrow, we must create a jobs ecosystem for creative workers today.

The next Administration must boldly activate the nation’s 5.1 million arts and cultural workers to address critical infrastructure, community development, innovation, and public health needs. Creative workers, and the hundreds of thousands of creative businesses they drive, have been devastated by Coronavirus more than almost any other sector[3]—one study pegs the creative worker unemployment rate at 63% and a collective income loss of over $60 billion[4]—but stand ready to heal, strengthen, rebuild, and reimagine our communities.

Arts and culture are crucial components of civic dialogue, and research shows that in the primary areas of concern for recovery—including racial justice, health, education, community cohesion, and public safety—the integration of creative workers improves outcomes and sets up the community for success.[5] Through a suite of efforts coordinated via a centralized office housed in the West Wing, artists and creative workers can be put to work addressing these pressing issues of the day.

To that end, we offer the following 16 actions—many of which can be achieved through executive action and/or without authorizing substantial additional federal funding.

Engage In, and Drive, Direct Employment of Creative Workers

  1. Create positions within the Executive branch to coordinate activities related to arts, culture, and creative economy, with particular attention to relief and recovery efforts.

    Create positions within the Executive Office of the President that will advise the President on issues related to the arts, culture, and creative economy across all federal departments and to coordinate, for the President, the arts and culture making process in the White House, ensure that arts and policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President's stated goals, and monitor implementation of the President's arts policy agenda. This office will lead arts and cultural initiatives on behalf of the White House both domestically and internationally, including partnering on decision making related arts integration into infrastructure, education, job creation and coordination of the various creative workforce activities implemented at the Departments of Education, Commerce, Transportation, HUD, Labor, Agriculture, Energy, and State; the NEA, NEH, IMLS, and other cultural agencies; and local and state government partners.

  2. Advance direct employment of creative workers within federal agencies and programs.

    Employ creative workers as artists-in-residence, fellows, community or cultural organizers, teaching artists[7], and project managers, with a focus on economy-boosting, living-wage creative jobs that will strengthen our communities, schools, public health systems; beautify our infrastructure; create a full and vibrant social and creative life in communities; and lead the transition into the next economy. Particular focus should be given to federal departments that have existing workforce/hiring programs, such as the Department of the Interior’s National Parks Artist Residency program[8].

  3. Direct federal departments to commission artists and community arts organizations.

    Capture and document this unprecedented moment in our nation’s history through photographs, narratives, storytelling, murals, films, plays and other media. Creating a matrix of stories and conversations to move a moment of loss into an opportunity for grieving and recovery will aid development of community-driven responses to systemic racism, historic inequities, and recent trauma. These commissions will illuminate under-told or erased narratives and histories of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color; immigrants; people in rural communities; people with disabilities; LGBTQIA people; poor people; women; and children. In particular, expand the GSA Art in Architecture Program[9] to other federal infrastructure projects.

  4. Put artists to work addressing public and mental health in communities.

    Support local programs that engage artists and creative workers to address community health issues; provide funding and guidelines for states, localities, and tribal governments to commission public health campaigns to increase awareness of, and compliance with, public health mandates; and integrate creative arts therapies into care for those most affected by the pandemic, including specific support for cultural practitioners from Native communities. In particular, direct insurance companies to include arts prescriptions and healing practices as covered treatment options; provide opportunities for artists to support social emotional learning and/or trauma-informed education in schools; and position artists and creative workers alongside others working to address trauma and recovery.[10]

  5. Complete the launch of an ArtistCorps within AmeriCorps.

    Working from existing authorizing language within the Serve America Act provisions approved during the Obama/Biden Administration, expand or redirect dollars for competitive AmeriCorps state proposals toward cultural intervention, equitable community planning, substance abuse prevention, community resiliency, and direct cultural programming; advance the "new cultural models" capacity model through AmeriCorps VISTA to drive cultural institutions as collaborators in local/state anti-poverty work; instigate a "national direct" ArtistCorps program to re-employ unemployed and underemployed teaching artists to address mental health, education, and workforce training efforts; direct inclusion of cultural organizations and state and local arts agencies and tribal governments as clear partners in the AmeriCorps VISTA anti-poverty work; incorporate creative arts explicitly in the Corporation for National Community Service’s senior programming portfolio; and deploy teaching artists and arts educators through the Learn and Serve America program. This work will allow artists and creative workers to use their creative practice to heal communities, drive social-emotional learning, improve cultural competency and cohesion, address trauma, and inspire new thinking in communities.

Drive Local, State, and Private Sector Activation of Creative Workers

  1. Incentivize private businesses and local and state agencies and tribal governments to integrate creative workers to envision successful business structures in recovery and beyond.

    Support businesses in engaging creative minds to react to changing workplace needs, inspire advances in practice, and drive innovation around products, services, and ways of working. Use financial incentives, such as a tax credit or access to a loan or capital, to fund the positions and work.[11]

  2. Prioritize and incentivize public and private sector support, access to capital, and equitable funding of arts producing organizations, small creative businesses, community cultural centers, and collectives.

    In particular, focus on organizations that are led by members of and/or based in Black, Indigenous, and communities of color and have served those communities despite chronic under-funding, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, the economic crisis, and historical inequities in the arts and in all sectors of American society.

  3. Utilize and provide resources to local-level Workforce Investment Boards to develop and deploy creative entrepreneur support programs.

    Support, in conjunction with economic development related organizations, holistic programs and practices that support creative youth development and wellness and that allow young artists to design, develop, and lead programs, initiatives, and community responses. This can minimize the reaction time and create resources to intervene for both the dislocated workforce and the incumbent workforce members of a community.

Adjust Existing Policies to Recognize Creative Workers as Workers

  1. Ensure that the creative economy is explicitly included in existing policy, rules, and regulations.

    Without requiring the authorization of any new spending, make targeted policy adjustments to authorize access to federal funds for creative workers and businesses working in communities. Examples include adjusting language in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to authorize a Creative Economy Grants program within the Department of Labor and include explicit support for creative enterprise within broader support of Native communities; integrating creative economy apprenticeship and internship grants into the Public Works and Economic Development Act; incentivizing the training and hiring of veterans in creative fields by altering language in 38 U.S.C. § 3116; and amending the Small Business Act to more explicitly include creative businesses in its technical assistance and financial support programs.[12]

  2. Overhaul outdated employment, insurance, food, and housing policies to make them more inclusive of the more than 55 million independent workers, including the bulk of the 5.1 million creative workers in the country.

    Focus on (1) the permanent extension of small business programs and unemployment insurance benefits to self-employed artists, independent contractors, entrepreneurs,[13] and workers who receive both W2s and 1099s, (2) universal access to portable health insurance for a constantly moving workforce, and (3) explicit inclusion of independent workers in policies related to affordable food and housing access.

Integrate Creative Interventions into Response, Recovery and Resilience Programs

  1. Direct and incentivize the integration of creative workers and creative organizations at the municipal, county, state, and tribal levels during disaster relief and recovery efforts.

    Through such action, support sustainability and resiliency, create a sense of belonging, improve community and public health, document the moment, and engage the public in community dialogue to process trauma. In addition, formalize creative work as an anchor of innovative transportation initiatives, improve education, document the time, beautify and make sense of places, develop media and awareness campaigns related to health and recovery, curate free and low-cost cultural opportunities, and engage the public in essential community dialogue.

  2. Integrate artists and culture workers into critical, long-term community recovery planning.

    Revise FEMA’s various Emergency Support Functions and enable national cooperative agreements with national, state, local, and tribal arts organizations and agencies to organize and deploy artists as support mechanisms for localized recovery planning and community input processes.

  3. Improve treatment of creative workers and businesses within the federal disaster response structure for all declared disasters.

    Ensure that creative entrepreneurs are treated fairly in terms of the federal add-on to state unemployment compensation for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA); pursue regulatory action to eliminate FEMA ineligibility for self-employed workers for Other Needs Assistance (ONA) tool replacement and eliminate means testing; base the DUA for self-employed workers on business receipts rather than net profit; and end the practice of counting gross receipts against net profit when reducing DUA compensation.

Support Access to Arts, Culture, and Arts Education

  1. Expand opportunities and lower barriers for public access to cultural experiences and venues.

    Support cultural organizations and commission free community entertainment, engagement, and partnership opportunities, which can provide community cultural nexus points and valuable social and mental health benefits to community residents. In addition, during recovery and as required, incentivize local and state public and private investment to help cultural venues adapt their facilities and digital platforms, and to generally provide safe settings for family learning, performances, and wellness programs. These efforts will allow organizations to deliver on their missions in new ways, such as by providing temporary alternate sites for public schools, provide affordable cultural experiences, employ creative workers, and address community health needs, while also reinforcing the essential value of cultural organizations to the fabric of the community.

  2. Support and incentivize private, state, local, and tribal philanthropic investment in arts-based education and educators.

    Through federal funds distributions and guidelines, matching grants, forgivable loans, and other available mechanisms, including possible extension of the universal charitable deduction, support the arts in both schools and community cultural spaces, including arts-integrated teaching, place-based arts and cultural practice, intergenerational education, oral histories, and the preservation of folk traditions that elevate a community’s history and culture, including on tribal lands.

  3. Prioritize digital training, access, and connectivity to enhance the connection between artists and all Americans.

    Direct and fund the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities to underwrite the local- and state-level creation of digital job-training and skill-building support programs for artists and creative workers in order to build digital capacity within the arts. Through such initiatives, modeled on the Digital Strategy Funds currently active in England[15] and Canada,[16] strengthen cultural workers’ understanding and engagement with the digital world; document and share creative work in new forms and with new audiences; stimulate the digital transformation of the creative sector; and amplify voices responding to the cultural and social changes of the moment. More broadly, invest in broadband access for all and prioritize digital equity, particularly in rural and Native communities, which will improve creative connectivity and access.

The United States’ 5.1 million creative workers stand ready to do what they do best: build our communities into better, more equitable versions of themselves. We are here and ready to create essential civic dialogue that bridges people and communities, alleviates trauma, and centers equity; document our history, tell the story of our present, and imagine our future; beautify our spaces; improve the safety and efficiency of our transportation; drive innovation; develop media and awareness campaigns; curate free and low-cost cultural opportunities for all; educate our children; and more. Put creative workers to work alongside all of the others ready to help rebuild and reimagine our communities and places, and the whole country will be made better for it.

[1] The Arts Projects of the WPA, CETA, and FSA produced more than 400,000 pieces of art—including some of the most enduring American paintings, murals, photographs, books, plays, and music of the 20th century—and nurtured a community-based arts practice that transformed the places in which it occurred. They also made possible the careers and creative practice of some who would go on to define modern America, including Jackson Pollock, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Mark Rothko, Gordon Parks, Aaron Douglas, John Cheever, Dorothea Lange, James Agee, Walker Evans, Thomas Hart Benton, Gerald Nailor, Ralph Ellison, Bill Irwin, Cynthia Mailman, Langston Hughes, Suzanne Lacy, Judy Baca, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Jacob Lawrence, and Dawoud Bey.

[2] This proposal combines suggested actions from, among other sources, Standing for Cultural Democracy, the Cultural New Deal for Cultural and Racial Justice, various working papers from Americans for the Arts, Californians for the Arts’ Job Creation Strategies and Actionable Items for the Arts Sector, Arts Wisconsin’s We’re All In Creative Workforce Program, and THE OFFICE’s Artists at Work program. It is also the result of combined work from over 100 members of the creative community through the Getting Creative Workers Working Coalition, a coalition of National Arts Service Organizations and Regional Arts Organizations, and Americans for the Arts’ various networks, including the State Arts Action Network and the United States Urban Arts Federation. Inquiries about this proposal can be directed to Clay Lord at [email protected].

[3] Florida, R. “Lost Art: Measuring COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on America’s Creative Economy.” Brookings Institution.

[4] “COVID-19’s Impact on the Arts: August 11, 2020.” Americans for the Arts.

[5] The University of Pennsylvania’s Social Impact of the Arts Project’s study of New York City found that the presence of cultural resources is associated with a 14% decrease in cases of child abuse and neglect; a 5% decrease in obesity; an 18% increase in kids scoring in the top stratum on English and math exams; and an 18% decrease in serious crime. Other similar research includes the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Rural Arts, Design, and Innovation in America, and the National Governors Association and National Association of State Arts Agencies’ Driving Rural Prosperity through the Arts and Creative Sector.

[7] For more detail on this need, view this statement drafted by Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic, Teaching Artists Guild, Association of Teaching Artists, Lifetime Arts, and others that include a basic set of policy ideas.

[8] Find out more here.

[9] The GSA Art in Architecture Program oversees the commissioning of artworks for new federal buildings nationwide.

[10] For evidence and examples, see Center for Arts in Medicine’s Advisory Brief and the Trust for Public Land’s Toolkit for Health, Arts, Parks, and Equity.

[11] Examples include Kohler’s Arts/Industry Program, Nokia-Bell Labs’s Experiments in Arts & Technology, the Google Creative Lab, and the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Studio.

[12] The PLACE Act (S.3232, HR 7487), currently under consideration by Congress, addresses small but crucial changes in current federal policy to encourage support for creative businesses and workers from existing funds. Components of this related to interpreting rules and regulations within federal departments can be completed through executive action. All changes would unleash the power of creative workers through modest policy expansions.

[13] Artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed than other workers in America. 91% of all businesses in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector have no employees other than the owner.

[14]FEMA’s Emergency Support Function 14 supports the agency’s cross-sector coordination and collaboration.”

[15] Digital R&D Fund, Arts Council England

[16] Digital Strategy Fund, Canada Council on the Arts