Art

Wooden figurines made by Javier Vélez. Artists have joined voices calling for more funding and tax exemptions to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19.

The Puerto Rico Museums Association, in collaboration with the Art & Culture Committee and the People’s Social Task Force (collectively, the Alliance), presented a report on the state of the island’s cultural sectors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, responding to October 2020, contains general information on public hearings aimed at addressing the plight of these sectors, as well as insight from professionals in cultural fields, including challenges and proposals.

“The work agenda that we set includes short and long-term goals. Strengthening the cohesion of the cultural ecosystem to overcome its invisibility in the context of the pandemic, conceiving concrete proposals that enhance our integration into the State’s response strategies, and contributing to the social and economic recovery of Puerto Rico are some of them," said Marianne Ramírez Aponte, president of the Museums Association and facilitator for the collaborating entities.

Museum 3

MAC's Executive Director Marianne Ramirez Aponte.

“This is essential to overcome the multiple challenges we face, to be effective in promoting, educating, formulating and advocating in the establishment of cultural policies and raising funds that ensure the viability of the cultural ecosystem and a better quality of life for our artists, as a community that has to be recognized as a highly vulnerable,” Ramírez Aponte added. 

Public Efforts

The report indicates that following multiple hearings with government officials, more money was made available to individuals and entities in the cultural industry, and other proposals are under evaluation.

In early October, the Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) announced that the Incentive for Creative Industries was allocated an additional $3 million under the Puerto Rico Incentives Code for self-employed professionals in this sector, available at www.RefuerzoEconomico.com.

“Puerto Rico is going through a time of great challenges that affect various economic sectors, including the creative industries, where many entities and employees have not had the opportunity to work for more than six months. It is our duty to offer the aid that is within our reach to provide an economic reinforcement to this sector,” DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy said.

Meanwhile, the Alliance called to include nonprofit organizations in the Protection Project: Community and Social Impact Organizations, with a report that they presented to Gov. Wanda Vázquez. Their findings revealed that the economic impact of COVID-19 on the third sector could reach up to $483 million. Including nonprofits in that initiative would reportedly represent more than $300 million that would benefit, among others, nonprofits dedicated to promoting and preserving artists and cultural entities and activities.

At the federal level, through the American Alliance of Museums and the office of Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, the local Alliance has called on the U.S. government to include Puerto Rico’s museum community in any upcoming economic stimulus package and design a specific stimulus for artists and cultural managers.

The Alliance also aims to protect local artists’ workshops through a bill under the U.S. Department of Housing, provided that these spaces represent the artists’ housing, art and livelihoods.

Artists Present Proposals

Ramírez Aponte, who also serves as the executive director and curator in chief of the Contemporary Museum of Puerto Rico, called for the creation of a Cultural Task Force to permanently integrate museums in the island’s COVID-19 emergency plan and foster collaboration between these institutions and the government to design projects geared at offering artistic and educational services, as well as art therapy to “promote wellness and social cohesion.”

For her part, Raquel Vázquez Varela, executive director of Teatro Público, issued a series of proposals to revitalize the Scenic Arts sub-sector. Some of these include an exemption of the Sales & Use Tax on ticket sales for performing arts presentations; free access to public spaces for scenic arts presentations until 2021; and a reduced rate for the use of facilities attached to the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP by its Spanish acronym) until December 2021.

Vázquez Varela also advocated for an alliance between the P.R. Department of Education and WIPR (Channel 6) -the island’s public broadcast station- to hire artists to produce educational and cultural programming. Furthermore, she affirmed that Education must hire more art teachers and implement art and theater as required classes in all levels of school education.

Visual artist Abdiel Segarra-Ríos observed that local artists who work independently or are new to the scene are at greater risk of unemployment and being removed from their workshops.

He also criticized that artists are expected to have an entrepreneurial mindset, but “the professionalization spaces available for recent graduates who want to dedicate themselves to developing their own work are so rare that very few choose to dedicate themselves to it.

“If, despite everything, they want to force us to behave as entrepreneurs, we need education curriculums to contemplate it and fair conditions to support us in the process of starting our own businesses. Many of the alternative spaces do not sell a piece until after the first two years of being founded. Legal and financial incentives are urgently needed to stimulate the creation of new patrons, so that giving is not a charitable act, but rather an opportunity to make a country,” Segarra-Ríos added.

Other artists from a variety of backgrounds -including dance, print and conservation- agreed that the government must propitiate cultural appreciation and artistic development in the public school system, both to champion future artists and create job opportunities in teaching.

Call for Greater Funding

The government’s budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021, approved by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, designates $33.16 million for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, the Musical Arts Corp. and the Puerto Rico Fine Arts Center Corp. Artists, however, asserted that the cultural industry needs more allocations paired with tax initiatives.

“We need agency models and development conditions that adjust to the needs of our sector. A vision that includes ways to pay taxes that are reinvested in the sector, financial tools that allow buying spaces and building autonomy,” Segarra-Ríos opined.

The full snapshot of the present state of the cultural industry and its monetary needs is generally inaccessible. Lab Cultural, an online platform, gathers data from various sources to generate reports. Its most recent report, with information from 2017, revealed that back then, there were 1,590 establishments related to the industry, generating 16,513 jobs.

The sub-sectors of manufacturing (print, architectonic carpentry and jewelry), retail, film and fine arts education generate annual average salaries lower than $30,000, with the latter offering the lowest average salary at $12,134.

These are reportedly exacerbated by the current pandemic due to business closures and lockdowns, among other virus-related measures. As such, the report urges more government funding and measures to impact artists and entities that seek to promote and preserve Puerto Rican culture.

“We invite the government, foundations, private companies and civil society to make a long-term commitment to culture. If anything has given him glory, hope, imagination and pride, it has been artists and their ecosystem. The time has come for strong and continuous support,” added Javier Hernández Acosta, director of Business Administration at Sacred Heart University.

Read the full October 2020 Art and Culture Report below (in Spanish):

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