Arts Group to Lobby RTM Members for $200K in ARPA Funding

Jan 12, 2022 | Arts, Government | 1 comment

Nancy Diamond, chairwoman of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee, during Tuesday’s meeting. / Photo by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Performing arts groups with no audiences, visual arts galleries with no patrons, concerts canceled for a whole year.

These are some of the problems Westport arts groups have been struggling with during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee, which met Tuesday to discuss the issue, hopes to distribute over $200,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds — a share of the town’s $8.4 million allocation of federal pandemic-relief money — to local arts groups to help them survive the pandemic. 

First, however, the Representative Town Meeting must approve the funding.

Entire $200K or piecemeal allocations?

The committee members’ biggest concern is that the RTM will not approve the appropriation as a block of money for WAAC to distribute, and instead will review the funding requested for each proposed art project individually. But the arts committee believes it should be those involved in the arts who decide how the funds should be distributed, several members said during the meeting.

“We don’t want a government meeting tearing apart every art project,” said Nancy Diamond, WAAC chairwoman. “Everybody has a project they don’t like, and everyone has a project they like more than another.”

WAAC has spent three months taking applications from the 16 nonprofit arts organizations in Westport, and vetting them to be sure that each organization is a certified nonprofit entity, is financially stable and has a board of directors. Twelve of the 16 organizations responded with requests ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 in ARPA funds for individual projects. 

Should WAAC determine who gets how much?

The Board of Finance recommended last week that the arts appropriation be granted to the WAAC as a block, but only after a lengthy discussion. Some finance board members were concerned the art organizations requesting the money are private and not governmental bodies, and that scrutiny of how the groups actually spend the money could prove difficult.

Diamond doesn’t agree. “We need to respect the professionalism of each of these [arts] organizations to do right by the taxpayer dollar,” she told her committee. “We view all of the organizations in town as part of one community, of Westport.”

Winning over RTM members

To meet the challenge of winning RTM approval, WAC members decided to lobby members of the legislative body individually before Feb. 1 when the RTM meets to consider the appropriation. 

“We need to get 17 yesses by Feb. 1 — by talking to people, writing to people — we can assure this in a strategic way,” committee member Lee Goldstein told the arts group. 

1 Comment

  1. Lee Goldstein

    I made a mistake at the meeting. The RTM is 36 members, a majority vote is 19.

    Reply

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