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Wisconsin Spotlight | Nov. 16, 2020

MADISON — Budgets are about priorities. Or at least they should be, particularly in times of crisis. A pandemic not seen in a century sickening bodies and economies would certainly qualify as a crisis. 

Gov. Tony Evers thinks this is the right time to bail out the arts. 

His administration recently announced $15 million in federal Cares Act funding is being directed to nearly 400 arts and cultural organizations around the state.  

“These cultural organizations represent the vibrant fabric of communities across our state and support Wisconsin’s tourism industry and local economies,” the governor said in a press release. “This grant program will help organizations cover essential costs related to keeping their employees and communities safe throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA), the COVID-19 Cultural Organizations Grant program provides grants to nonprofit organizations, according to the press release. Their primary missions are to produce, present, or exhibit cultural disciplines such as music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts, or items of environmental or scientific interest. 

As Evers urges Wisconsin to stay at home through his voluntary lockdown emergency order, it begs the question: How much dance, theater and visual arts are going on right now? The governor has tried to significantly limit attendance at public gatherings, and there are only so many virtual theater productions even the most committed patron of the arts can take. 

Nonprofits from Milwaukee and Dane counties, not surprisingly, make up more than one-third of the 385 total grant recipients. The largest single sum distributed  — $137,712.39 — went to several recipients, including Milwaukee Film Inc. and Discovery World Ltd. Sara Meaney, Evers’ tourism secretary-designee, served as Milwaukee Film’s former marketing director. Her good friend Joel Brennan, was Discovery World’s CEO before he was tapped by Evers to lead the state Department of Administration. 

Performing and visual arts have, like so many others, taken a financial beating this year, to be sure. The grant awards, according to the Evers administration, may be used to cover pandemic-related impacts such as lost revenue, increased workers’ compensation costs, cleaning and sanitization, and purchases of services or equipment to facilitate telework by employees. 

“Just like small businesses, cultural organizations have taken a major financial hit,” said DOA Secretary Joel Brennan. “We’re all in this together. We hope that these funds will make it possible for us to be able to enjoy the museums, theaters, and music from these organizations once it is safe to do so again.”

But are flute clubs, far left community radio stations, and radical leftist theater groups, among other groups, what taxpayer-funded COVID-19 relief should be paying for? 

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