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Agile and accessible investments in the age of COVID | Guest Column

Pat Danehy, Guest Columnist
Published 12:18pm EST | Dec. 18, 2020 | Memphis Business Journal

Like many, in December I reflect on accomplishments and challenges of the year and hopes for the future —with gratitude for the opportunity to do so.

In both my professional and civic seats here in Memphis, the term “investment” is a constant.

When one invests, it is the intent that the investment will yield a positive return.

I’ve reflected upon the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry in Memphis and Shelby County, which comprises $200 million in annual spending and employs the equivalent of 6,000 full-time positions in Shelby County.

Based on a September 2020 survey of local arts nonprofits, a pandemic-connected loss of $20 million in income is estimated for the arts community as a result of canceled seasons, canceled events, and forecasted holistic shifts in philanthropic giving. Participating organizations in the study had laid off or furloughed 20% of employees during COVID.

The arts industry was the first to close the curtain and will be the last to fully reopen or recover. And while the theatres have been empty — or emptier than ever before — fiduciary agents in our community have filled their days and duties lessening the gap of these losses and investing in the future.

As chairman of the board of ArtsMemphis, though our organization is 57 years old and has cultivated a tested and proven protocol to serve as the fiduciary distributor of funds to the arts, nothing made me prouder this year than to witness the flexibility, fortitude, creativity, and energy of staff and supporters to not only react to but innovate in this environment of uncertainty.

We found new opportunities and outlets in the 2020 fiscal year to provide stability amidst the uncertainty. ArtsMemphis allocated $2.8 million to hundreds of artists and more than 70 arts organizations. This included a COVID-prompted Artist Emergency Fund in partnership with Music Export Memphis, which has distributed close to $500,000 in direct aid of up to $1,000 each to more than 640 working artists and arts sector workers, with money raised through City of Memphis CARES Act funds, the Kresge Foundation, the Assisi Foundation, the Hyde Family Foundation, and others.

While we’ll never go back to “normal,” in my opinion, the “new normal” will be one of continued agility and newfound accessibility. For the arts, it might be similar to the sports world, where every arts event is created both for an in-person and broadcast experience. The arts will be more accessible than ever before and, at the same time, will continue to raise the bar of production and performance.

For ArtsMemphis, the year culminated in the inaugural Arts Week. Arts Week was an idea born out of the continued drive to not only recognize the value of our arts community and the role ArtsMemphis plays in funding it, but also to invite all artist and arts organizations to stand together as one.

Like art always does, it’s found its way, and in some aspects, it even led the way through 2020. I hope that, as a community, we continue to recognize the role it serves to share our collective culture’s energy, entertainment, inspiration, and hope.

Pat Danehy is a principal of NewSouth Capital Management Inc. and board chair of ArtsMemphis.

Posted by Josie Ballin at 9:34 AM
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