Article Published: 09 Nov 2020

Support Opera 2020

The results of this November’s U.S. elections will have a significant impact on the future of opera, and the arts sector in general. These are some of the key arts-related issues at play.

Federal Lending and Loan Forgiveness

OA members and the opera community urgently need access to federal lending programs with favorable loan terms. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law in March 2020, helped businesses, nonprofit organizations, states, local communities, schools, families, and individuals deal with challenges related to the pandemic. The act included the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which provided forgivable loans and helped our members maintain operations and keep employees on the payroll. At this stage of the pandemic, the arts sector needs a new relief package, similar to the CARES Act, that provides access to loans and relief for creative workers and gig workers.

Extension and Expansion of Unemployment Benefits

Individual artists and arts workers need to be supported until opera companies can reopen safely. During the first months of the crisis, unemployed artists and arts workers received federal enhanced unemployment benefits in addition to state unemployment benefits, but in most states, these ended on July 31. Congress needs to work with states so opera professionals receive full long-term unemployment support.

Incentives for Increased Charitable Giving

The nonprofit arts sector relies on charitable gifts from its donors. In recognition of their benefit to the public good, contributions made to 501(c)(3) nonprofits have been tax-deductible since 1917. But after the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, which removed incentives for giving, taxpayers claiming the charitable deduction have declined. Congress can increase charitable donations by enacting a universal charitable deduction, available to all taxpayers, whether or not they itemize their returns. Charitable giving can further grow by building on the success of the IRA Charitable Rollover provision, which allows individuals to make direct tax-free charitable gifts up to $100,000 from their IRA starting at age 70½. Pending federal legislation would allow seniors starting at age 65 to make tax-free IRA rollovers into charities through charitable gift annuities or charitable remainder trusts. These are the types of tax incentives that will keep opera companies thriving for years to come.

Health and Safety

The pandemic forced OA members to close their doors to public events. If they are to reopen safely, Congress needs to make infrastructure investments so that they can renovate, refurbish, and adapt to post-COVID-19 public health protocols. Moreover, Congress needs to include the arts sector as it devises health and workplace safety policies. These should protect the health of arts workers, support the needs of arts venues, and promote public confidence in the safety of gathering in theaters. Congress also needs to expand access to health care and coverage for freelance artists and arts workers by removing access and affordability barriers.

High-Speed Broadband

To accommodate the “new normal” during the pandemic and beyond, every household needs to have access to a high-speed broadband internet connection. According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 21 million Americans now lack access to broadband, especially in rural areas; millions more cannot afford it. Accessible high-speed connectivity will allow more equitable participation in artistic, educational, and cultural activities, locally and nationally. It will also increase access to programming from OA members, during the pandemic and beyond.

Visas for International Guest Artists

Guest artists from around the world who work with American opera companies, in communities large and small, contribute their valuable skills to performances and educational events, and foster mutual understanding between nations. Audiences benefit from the perspectives and the stylistic insights of foreign artists. However, the U.S. visa process for international guest artists is inconsistent, unreliable, time-consuming, and expensive. Its strictness also risks provoking retaliation from foreign governments, which would have a significant negative impact on U.S. artists seeking jobs in other countries. It is important that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which administers the nation’s naturalization and immigration system, amends the U.S. visa process to make it accessible, affordable, reliable, and consistent.

Providing Increased Federal Investment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is the only arts funder in America, public or private, that supports the arts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Funding for the NEA has generated billions of dollars in matching support from businesses and individuals. Other federal arts-related entities, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, have provided dedicated pandemic relief to address the unique needs of cultural organizations. Congress must continue to provide sustained and adequate funding to these entities so that the arts sector can advance creativity and innovation in communities across the nation.

This article was published in the Fall 2020 issue of Opera America Magazine.