Laura Way became CEO & President of Arts Greensboro in April of 2019. She was clearly the right choice for the position. Having served as Executive Director and CEO at the GreenHill Center for North Carolina Art, as well as a member of the Greensboro Cultural Arts Master Plan Task Force, Way is intimately connected to the Greensboro and Triad arts scene. A year later, when Covid-19 turned the world upside down, she was there to help navigate the crisis and to look beyond it to see a promising future for the arts in the community.
The pandemic was the cause of much angst and uncertainty among the arts community. Suddenly, concerts, performances, and artist exhibitions were canceled. Many local artists — a good number of whom operate in a “gig economy” — did not have formalized lines of credit or cash reserves. As days turned to weeks and then months, the new reality of lockdown forced them to pivot and restrategize. Now faced with what appeared to be life without live public performances or even sit-down dining in restaurants for the foreseeable future — the arts community needed to figure out how to survive.
Says Way, “One of the really great things about artists, aside from their talent, is their strong sense of community.” Not surprisingly, arts organizations and artists — known for their creativity — came up with innovative ways to serve their audiences. Using their talents, they took to social media with live concerts and gatherings on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Dealing With an Urgent Need
Seeing the urgent need to keep the vibrant arts scene alive, Arts Greensboro immediately began raising money for artists. They made a request to Guilford County for funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The efforts resulted in $700,000 in funding from Guilford County and $330,000 in State funding for artist grants. Additionally, ArtsGreensboro made grants to organizations otherwise not eligible for CARES Act funding in the amount of $365,000 plus another $100,000 in artist grants.
While the resulting fallout of the pandemic has been widespread, dealing with financial hardship and insufficient funding is not a new concept for the arts community. The struggle to make it through the pandemic has been remembered in a song and video commissioned by ArtsGreensboro entitled “Through It All” featuring a collection of some of Greensboro’s most creative musicians, writers, artists, and performers.
“We have local arts-grown artists and organizations that have really made things work since before the Great Recession, in a very undercapitalized and under-resourced way,” says Way.
The arts community came into the pandemic fragile, but the commitment to giving back and enriching the local community with meaningful art experiences has never wavered.
New Creative Investment
Now that the worst of the crisis is over, Way is asking the community to give back and invest in these artists and organizations so that they can grow and thrive. According to the data — contributing to the arts is a smart investment providing a great ROI. Statistics show that cities investing in arts, drive more tourism and economic impact. Not only is this smart business but the result is smart community building.
The recent announcement of Toyota investing almost $1.3 billion in the construction of a new battery plant at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite means that Greensboro, along with the rest of the Triad, can look forward to a huge economic boost. Way emphasizes that now is the time to attract even more talent to the area. Remember, all those new jobs will not necessarily be filled locally. Way says we need to be competitive on a national or even international level to attract the talented people we need.
Offering a vibrant and flourishing arts scene is necessary to not only attract talented resources to the area but to keep them. “We are hoping that the downstream effect drives our local arts scene,” she says. Way is asking the community to make a commitment to help. To learn more, read about her plan for a New Creative Investment in the arts.
How You Can Help Right Now
Guilford County is receiving $104 million in federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to assist recovery from the Pandemic. ArtsGreensboro has asked the County and City of Greensboro to each make a $2.5 million investment in the Creative Economy utilizing ARPA Funds. Guilford County is gathering specific information from citizens on how the ARPA funds should be allocated. Take a few minutes to fill out the survey and advocate for funding for the local arts. The survey will be available online through December 31, 2021, and you can complete it more than once, send the link to your colleagues, friends, family, and local network.