The League of American Orchestras’ two-person Washington D.C. office speaks up for orchestras before Congress, the White House, and federal agencies, represents orchestras in broad coalition efforts across the nonprofit and creative sectors, and helps individual orchestras build their capacity to make the case for the orchestral artform and its impact on communities nationwide. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a new wave of advocacy needs for orchestras in addition to longstanding policy priorities.
Maximizing Access to COVID-19 Relief
In a late-February 2022 League survey, 90 percent of responding orchestras reported that federal relief had a significant impact on their ability to maintain their workforce and performance activity. The League was a leading voice in Congress and to the Administration, advancing policy requests to ensure that pandemic relief programs would include eligibility for orchestras and the wider arts and nonprofit sectors. Through online learning events, newsletters, and one-to-one assistance, the League has helped orchestras to access all forms of federal aid.
Among those programs, the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grants have so far supported 339 orchestras in 48 states—for a total of more than $265 million in relief funds for orchestras. In addition, dedicated National Endowment for the Arts funding, forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans, Employee Retention Tax Credits, enhanced charitable giving incentives, Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, and other forms of governmental assistance have helped orchestras through the pandemic. One League survey respondent stated, “These funds enabled us to retain all orchestra members throughout the entire time since the pandemic started. They allowed us to continue concert performances (with drastically reduced audience sizes), perform socially distanced concerts in the community, continue our education program, and further develop our virtual concert capabilities.”
Seeking Recovery Resources
The newest data on the economic impact of the arts sector is in the current Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account, released in March 2022 by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts. The report illustrates the toll of the pandemic on live performing arts while also charting the important role of the arts in our nation’s economic recovery. Among the findings: “Performing arts presenters and performing arts companies joined oil drilling/exploration and air transportation as the steepest-declining areas of the U.S. economy in 2020.”
Given the lasting impact of the pandemic on earned revenue, the need for ongoing relief persists—and orchestras are essential partners in communities’ economic and civic recovery. As Congress considers new COVID-19 relief measures as well as investments in workforce development and infrastructure, the League is rallying orchestras to continue to speak up to elected officials. For near-term recovery, reinstating access to the Employee Retention Tax Credit for the last quarter of 2021 tops the list. Also on the list: extending the time for Shuttered Venue Operators Grant recipients to spend their awards, reinstating enhanced charitable giving incentives, and getting other forms of recovery assistance across the finish line in Congress.
In written testimony submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the League called on Congress to expand charitable giving incentives and enact urgently needed policies to support orchestras and the wider nonprofit sector. In the March 17 “Examining Charitable Giving and Trends in the Nonprofit Sector” hearing, bipartisan members of the Senate’s leading tax policy committee expressed support for reinstating and expanding the Universal Charitable Deduction, which expired at the end of 2021. Orchestras can continue to describe how their nonprofit missions advance vibrant artistry, community partnerships, and a commitment to lifelong learning, and to ask for Congressional action on tax policies that support orchestras and their workforce.
Supporting a New Rhythm of Artistry
As international travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are lifted, cross-border concert activity is returning, and government policies concerning online and global music events are once again a central focus for orchestras.
For orchestras that present international artists as performers, the League’s artistsfromabroad.org website, visa help desk, and policy engagement with the U.S. State Department and Citizenship and Immigration services are helping orchestras ensure that concerts can go on as planned. International policy talks have brought the League back to the table to represent global music interests in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which sets policies for how musicians can travel with instruments containing rosewood, reptile skin, tortoise shell, and small bits of ivory. In partnership with the National Association of Music Merchants, the League participated in negotiations in Lyon, France in March 2022, advancing policy requests to improve the Musical Instrument Certificate, and encourage ongoing exemptions for activity with musical instruments that does not pose a threat to species protected by international treaties.
As the pandemic continues, orchestras are offering both in-person and online performances. At the start of the 2021-22 season, 57 percent of orchestras responding to a League survey reported that they intend to stream events. However, automated copyright “bots” on some platforms are erroneously confusing orchestra performances for copyrighted recordings, disrupting the streamed event. The League provided data to support the Orchestra Music Licensing Association’s submission of comments to the U.S. Copyright Office seeking solutions to prevent further disruption of orchestra streaming activity and bringing forward examples and facts from U.S. orchestras.
These activities represent just some of the ways the League increases support for orchestras and the creative sector. Learn more about the League’s full array of policy issues, advocacy resources, and direct assistance for member orchestras in the Advocate section of americanorchestras.org.