The pandemic has shed light on, and at times shined a huge spotlight on, what community support was in place and not in place before March 2020.  The arts and culture industry, one of the most negatively impacted, is a key indicator of community vibrancy and provides an insightful lens to see how community resiliency has played out so far.

What we are witnessing is that communities that had infrastructure to support local arts and culture in place with existing investment pathways were able to mitigate some of the damage, tap into the arts and culture sector for community health & wellness, and begin to recover before others.

New Haven and Hartford are examples of cities that pre-pandemic had a foundation of investment – commitment, staff, resources, funds – based on a basic core belief that arts and culture are vital to having a vibrant city or town.  Simply put, they get it, and have for a long time. Whether it be through an arts and cultural department in their government offices such as the New Haven Department of Arts, Culture & Tourism or a history of strong corporate and foundation support like in Hartford, funding and program pathways were already in place and then utilized to deploy help the arts sector during the pandemic. Add in existing partnerships with Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Greater Hartford Arts Council, the CT Office of the Arts’ Designated Regional Service Organizations for New Haven and Hartford respectively – and these cities already had a life support system in place. While other regions were watching the damage being done to the arts and culture sector during the shutdown and trying to figure out how to best help, New Haven and Hartford simply put programs and resources into the system and deployed resources to help. Smaller cities and even rural towns can learn from this model.

There are a few key ways that main street organizations and municipalities can help catalyze local investment for a rapid return to vibrant communities and long-term sustainability:

1) Form, strengthen, and deepen your partnership with your Designated Regional Service Organization (DRSO). The CT Office of the Arts (COA)/Department of Economic and Community Development partners with DRSOs that serve as local field offices to constituents and citizens. This statewide network of designated service agencies plays a key role that is mutually beneficial to the state’s citizens and creative economy, the regional arts and cultural infrastructure, and COA’s goals, programs and services.  The role of the DRSO is to support CT’s economy by providing arts and cultural leadership at a regional level. These organizations:

Develop, convene, and sustain the arts industry and develop and sustain cross-sector relationships;

  • Provide coordinated marketing, technical assistance, advocacy, and many other services and programs;
  • Support specific COA programs and services.

2) Municipalities can form a Cultural District, effective October 2019 through Public Act 19-143, An Act Concerning the Establishment of Municipal Cultural Districts. A Cultural District is a specific area of a city or town identified by the municipality that has a number of cultural facilities, activities and/or assets – both for profit and nonprofit. It is a walkable, compact area that is easy for visitors to recognize. It is a center of cultural activities – artistic and economic. It is a place in your city/town where community members congregate, and visitors may enjoy those places that make a community special.


Reasons to Establish a Cultural District:

  • Market arts and culture attractions to visitors
  • Promote and encourage artists, entrepreneurs and creative businesses
  • Promote tourism and increase visitation
  • Improve the quality of life for residents
  • Strengthen distinctive character of communities
  • Create a plan to drive economic growth and expand tax base
  • Support Sustainable CT certification
  • Contribute to Connecticut’s cultural assets
  • Highlight culture and history of your community

3) Encourage municipalities to dedicate at least 1% of their ARPA funds to local arts and culture. When the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was first announced and the interim guidelines were issued, our organization, some of our peers across the state, and the CT Arts Alliance launched a percent for art campaign asking every municipality to dedicate at least 1% of their ARPA funds to local arts and culture, a cornerstone of tourism and hospitality.

  • New Haven’s Mayor Elicker committed $1M, approximately 1% of total ARP allocation
  • Hartford’s Mayor Bronin committed $5.8M, approximately 5% of total ARPA allocation
  • Norwich’s City Manager has proposed $500k, approximately 3.5% of total ARPA allocation
  • To see other municipal proposals and commitments, see ARP 1% for the Arts map here (CT Arts Alliance)

In CT alone, there has been $2.4B in lost revenue for creative businesses in 2020, and $1.11B in lost revenue for creative workers in the same year. With 56% of all creative workers (and 67% of BIPOC creative workers) unemployed, the infusion of ARPA funding will address the impact of the pandemic and help speed recovery to arts, culture and tourism. (Americans for the Arts, Red Alert: Covid-19 and the Creative Economy in Connecticut)

Covid-19’s impact on the arts and cultural sector continues and the losses are still mounting with many arts venues remaining shuttered, events still being re-scheduled, and audiences still returning. But, anecdotally, what we are hearing and seeing is that the arts ecosystem in New Haven and Hartford were not as badly damaged as other areas resulting in less permanent business closings, more access to relief funding, and a network of support from community partners. The economic losses are huge, but these communities are proving to be more resilient with existing commitments and infrastructure to support arts and culture, and will be able to more effectively recover.

Learn more about your CT Office of the Arts/DECD Designated Regional Service Organizations here.
Learn more about forming a Cultural District at the upcoming CCM webinar on July 22 at 10am.
Learn more about 1% for the ARTS here.


About the Author

WENDY BURY is the Executive Director of the Cultural Coalition, eastern CT’s Designated Regional Service Organization for the CT Office of the Arts/Department of Economic & Community Development.

Since 2014, Wendy has served as the founding Executive Director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition, now known as the Cultural Coalition. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to improve the economy, vitality and quality of life in eastern CT by supporting the arts, cultural and creative community. The Cultural Coalition provides programs and services to, and advocates for, more than 500 partners, including museums, performing arts organizations, artists, historical societies, economic development agencies, tribal and military entities, municipalities and creative businesses.

Currently, Wendy serves on the board of the CT Arts Alliance and is Chair of its Policy & Issues Committee. She is a Corporator of Chelsea Groton Bank, Trustee of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT, Southeastern CT Enterprise Region (seCTer) board member, and is a Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Regional Recovery Steering Committee member. She served as Co-Chair of Governor Lamont’s & Lt. Governor Bysiewicz’s Transition Arts, Culture and Tourism Policy Committee.