Gov. Phil Murphy approved the creation of a $15 million grant to help keep afloat the arts and culture organizations that have been pummeled by COVID-19 and in-person restrictions associated with the pandemic.
Establishments – like museums, concert halls and performing arts centers – have had to close their doors entirely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These venues depend on ticket sales and large turn-outs to generate a profit, but a months-long stay-at-home order and virtual state of lockdown, followed by limits on non-essential retail and indoor dining, further slammed arts, culture and tourism, and have caused profits to crater.
The newest batch of funding – approved on April 8 – is the second bill Murphy approved in a broader set of $100 million in proposed COVID-relief grants the state Legislature sent to the governor’s desk on March 25. All of that money would come out of the state’s share of federal assistance provided under the Trump-era COVID-19 relief package approved in 2020.
State lawmakers have been pushing for a greater say in how the state spends federal aid, especially the $6.4 billion that the state will get under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
During an April 6 budget hearing, Senate Budget Chair Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, pressed New Jersey State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio on whether “we have commitments from you that your administration will work with the Legislature” on how to spend the money, something which the administration said it very much favors.
Last week, Murphy approved a $25 million grant program for the state’s smallest businesses known as microbusinesses—those with up to five employees.
“We knew we had to stand up programs that would help upkeep the future of the arts in New Jersey… even if our stages went dark,” the governor said at the Thursday bill-signing ceremony at the West End Arts Center in Long Branch.
Half the money will be given out by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a nonprofit organization that typically provides grants to community-level and regional arts and culture organizations across the state.
“These relief dollars will put thousands back to work, boost the economy, and help ensure New Jersey’s arts industry survives to safely do what they do best,” Secretary of State Taesha Way, whose department includes the state council, said on Thursday.
The other $7.5 million will be overseen by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which over the past year has awarded an estimated $250 million of grants, low-interest loans and other forms of COVID-19 monetary relief to roughly 55,000 businesses.
A bill moving through the state Legislature calls for the entire pot of yearly hotel and motel tax revenue to go to arts, culture and tourism, ending a practice by governors on both sides of the aisle of raiding the money to plug holes elsewhere in the budget. On average the fees levied on hotel and motel transactions net the state upward of $100 million a year. But with money siphoned off to go toward unrelated expenses, arts and culture typically received roughly $20 million each year.
New Jersey law sets minimum standards for how much of the revenue has to go toward the arts, tourism and cultural agencies, and for years the state has allocated only those minimums.