Main Street America in partnership with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) hosted a webinar on February 10 titled “Small Business’s Big Moment” that highlighted ideas for communities on how to use the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for long-term economic development. Kennedy Smith from the ISLR and Kelly Humrichouser from Main Street America moderated the conversation, whose focus was on small business.
Some of the ideas presented include:
Strategic investments in small business training, coaching and finance, i.e. financial relief grants, loans, opening business incubators, and other resources;
Using the funds to develop and open full-service grocers;
Building a robust infrastructure to support small scale manufacturing;
Simplifying and streamlining the procurement process to make it easier for small businesses to bid;
Investing in “shop local” marketing campaigns;
Expanding broadband access;
Making improvements in commercial districts to enhance accessibility.
In July 2020 the MIT Technology Review announced the development of a new language generator A.I. called GPT-3 and produced by OpenAI, a research lab founded by Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Because of its vast neural network, GPT-3 performs much better than its predecessors being able to write short stories, songs, press releases, technical manuals, computer code, but also imitate established writers, and translate to and from a variety of languages. GPT-3 even wrote an informative article about itself that one would not be able to guess it wasn’t written by a human.
Here’s an example of GPT-3 creative writing: “When you can look into the mirror and see a poem looking back at you. When you can hear music in the play of silence. When you can create a writing that leaves people stunned. When you can laugh and weep as you think and breathe and bleed and eat and sleep. When you can dream with the quill in your fingers, then perhaps you will be a poet, a Poet, an Uber Poet.”
GPT-3 is good at synthesizing vast amounts of data and generating text on demand, but is also erroneous at times, and even racist and sexist. Having been trained on a dataset of half a trillion words, GPT-3 is able to identify an array of linguistic patterns but doesn’t understand what the words really mean and also lacks a general sense of purpose and meaning.
Given its versatility but also shortcomings, it remains to be seen how GPT-3 is going to be used by both academia and the business world to develop applications.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, and the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) have launched a Planning Assistance Program for rural communities to enhance the connection between Main Street businesses and recreational activities nearby in an effort to build stronger communities for a sustainable future. Through the planning assistance program communities across the country learn how to develop strategies that are conducive to smart growth, and benefit both Main Street activities and the outdoor recreational assets nearby.
Thriving communities invest in amenities such as broadband service, electric vehicle charging stations, housing, art centers, shops, restaurants, and breweries to ensure a high quality of life for residents but also attract visitors who are drawn to the area by the surrounding outdoor recreational activities.
The village of Cambridge, NY, for instance, was one of the communities selected in the first round launched in 2019. Through the planning process, assets were mapped, and priorities were set to connect recreational and cultural assets as well as promote smart growth. You can learn about this process at https://outdoorfuncambridgeny.org/.
Ogilvy released a report called “Hope Creates Impact: Six Shifts from the Intersection of Culture and Commerce” that analyzes the shifts and the brands’ response to them in making the world a better place. As a backdrop, the company highlights the intersection of “Apocalypse Now” and “Hope for Tomorrow”, two co-existing and competing trends defining our current time.
As detailed in the report, the shifts were identified after months of tracking the intersection of culture and commerce and discovering what has made an impact. Fashion, movies, art, music, advertisements, new product launches, business, gossip, and news – they were all analyzed to uncover ways in which human behaviors, desires, and motivators have shifted during these tumultuous times.
Six key shifts were identified:
1. Beta-Testing Self 2. Kind Connection 3. Slow Down 4. Net Positive 5. Heal Yourself 6. Feel Alive Again
Beta-Testing Self is a shift in how people approach life choices, including career opportunities – we are all now in a state of permanent beta-testing, exploring new things and new avenues. Brands are capitalizing on this trend and enabling self-making and adaptability.
Kind Connection is a shift in how people view relationships. To quote from the Ogilvy report, “The pandemic was a big driver of this trend, as it equated solitude with safety. But more than that, the lockdown brought clarity and fresh perspective to our relationships. We realized who our true friends were, and we deepened our connection with them.” A manifestation of this trend is what Ogilvy calls “COVID weddings” – the ballroom ceremonies were swiftly replaced with intimate affairs that only included a handful of guests.
Slow Down is a shift that, once imposed by the pandemic lockdown, has forced us to re-assess the cost of the old way of doing things. Moving to the country, embracing remote work, and other lifestyle choices are here to stay. Intimate, outdoor, and mindful experiences are what people are looking for, and brands are capitalizing on that.
Net Positive is a way of doing business which puts back more into society, the environment and the global economy than it takes out. The pandemic has accelerated this trend. According to the Ogilvy report, “ninety percent of consumers believe that companies have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people.” That is something that brands cannot ignore.
Heal Yourself is a shift caused by the pandemic that has led people to consider their health as something crucial to protect. People are making lifestyle choices and are also creating contingency plans like never before. And brands are called upon to enable meaningful changes.
Feel Alive Again is a shift emerging as we come out of the pandemic lockdown, and once again seek excitement and experiencing life to its fullest extent. The Ogilvy report mentions The Immersive Van Gogh Experience in Chicago and New York City as one such new way of feeling alive in a post-pandemic world. It is estimated that the experience economy will be worth $12B or more by 2023.
Writers in the Mountains (WIM) presents When Space Speaks with Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, a three-hour intensive workshop, Tuesday, September 21, 2021 from 1 to 4 p.m. Once they register and pay, participants will be given instructions on how to join the class.
In this class, students will explore vignette, ellipses, and space breaks, as we interpret the unsaid and sharpen our ear for silence. We will look at how the elliptical form can provide exhilarating leaps of energy—and explore how cutting one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page can in fact sharpen meaning, leaving only prose that shines like a diamond.
Sarah Blakley-Cartwright is a Board member of Writers in the Mountains. She is also a #1 New York Times bestselling author; Publishing Director of the Chicago Review of Books; and Associate Editor of A Public Space. Her website is https://www.sarahblakleycartwright.com/.
To register for this class, e-mail email@example.com. To register online, visit writersinthemountains.org. Class fee is $35. Registration deadline is September 14.
Writers in the Mountains is a 501 ( c ) (3) not-for-profit organization with a mission to provide a nurturing environment for the practice, appreciation and sharing of creative writing. For more information, visit writersinthemountains.org.
Read our interview with Jeff Senterman, the Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, to learn about conservation and economic development efforts as well as the unveiling of new exhibits and attractions at the Catskills Visitor Center.
Jeff Senterman is the Executive Director of the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development in Arkville, NY, a member of the Board of Directors for the American Hiking Society, the Catskill Watershed Corporation and the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Jeff graduated with a degree in Environmental Science from Lyndon State College and worked for many years as an Environmental Planner in New England before coming back to New York and the Catskills in the nonprofit sector.
SD: What is the number one issue The Catskill Center is concentrating on?
JS: To me climate change is the number one issue and the greatest challenge of our time. How would the Catskills look like in 2030 or 2050? I struggle to understand that, and work towards aligning The Catskill Center’s programs so that we can protect the natural environment while at the same time support a sustainable human environment. Unfortunately, certain communities will lose sustainability over the next few decades not because of drought and fires like we see in the West, but because of flooding. Events like Hurricane Irene will become more common and will displace communities located in floodplains. So, climate change is the lens that we are looking through to build sustainable communities.
SD: What solutions are you envisioning?
JS: Building infrastructure that is resilient to flooding is one. The bridges that are being built now are at much higher elevation for this reason. Also, when various entities buy properties located in floodplains to clear the space, relocation options should be put in place for people whose homes are being bought so these people do remain in the Catskill Region and don’t leave the area altogether. We at the Catskill Center are always working to create connections and build partnerships that advance viable ideas.
SD: How about the wildlife?
JS: We are already seeing species whose habitats are endangered in other parts of the country migrating towards the Catskill Region. As climate changes, more species will be looking for new habitats. We are trying to understand these migration patterns and create an island of biodiversity that connects with the Appalachians and bridges into the Adirondacks. Organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Open Space Institute are working to protect the routes for species to migrate.
SD: The Catskill Center serves four counties – Ulster, Sullivan, Greene, and Delaware which are located in different Regional Economic Development Councils: Ulster and Sullivan are located in Mid-Hudson, Greene in the Capital Region, and Delaware in the Southern Tier. Each of these regional councils develop their own strategic plans with different economic priorities. The Catskill Region seems to be split between three different economic frameworks: Mid-Hudson, the Capital Region, and the Southern Tier. How do you at the Catskill Center reconcile this and work to support the entire Catskill Region?
JS: This has been a difficult conversation. The Catskills are not recognized as their own region and that is a detriment to our area. It’s the same with the NYS DEC and NYS DOT – various Catskills counties are assigned to different regions and that makes coordinating efforts a challenge. The Catskills have been struggling to build and sell a regional identity for decades. There is a lack of cooperation unlike what you see in other tourist destinations like Vermont. We at the Catskill Center have been working on forging and promoting a regional identity that the tourists and the residents alike can make sense of. The Catskills Visitor Center in Mt. Tremper is representative of such efforts.
SD: Let’s talk about the Catskills Visitor Center.
JS: The Catskills Visitor Center opened in 2015 as a partnership between the Catskill Center and the DEC. It was initially called Catskills Interpretive Center. It took us sometime to figure out how to run the Center, what works, and what needs improvement. Through the advocacy work of the Catskill Center, we managed to secure funds in the State Budget that are specifically designated for the Visitor Center, both in 2020 and 2021.
SD: I know you have some exciting news about the Visitor Center.
JS: In 2017 we began work on renovating the interior of the Visitor Center to include exhibits showcasing the natural assets, the history, and the culture of the Catskill Mountains. We secured a Smart Growth grant from the DEC for scoping and planning efforts. We hired a consultant. And we are now in the final stages of construction. The project was stalled in 2020 due to the pandemic. But we are happy to announce that the exhibits will be completed and open to the public on Saturday, September 4th over the Labor Day weekend.
SD: What will the exhibits include?
JS: They will include the geological history of the region, current flora and fauna, the watershed, the communities, and the historic arc from Native Americans through the era of the Grand Hotels in the late 1800s to the Catskills of today. The exhibits tell the story of the Catskills. There is also a rolling mural in the style of the Hudson River School that summarizes the story. We think these exhibits interpret the Catskills in a way that is accessible to anyone.
SD: What other attractions does the Visitor Center include?
JS: There are two miles of walking trails around the Center, parts of which are fully ADA accessible. We installed a Fire Tower with spectacular views. Across the street there is access to the Esopus River. Let’s say you drive from downstate, and you only have one hour to experience the Catskills, the Visitor Center will give you that experience.
SD: With the Covid restrictions in place, what trends have you been noticing that are here to stay?
JS: For a year and a half we worked completely remotely. Now we have a flexible work schedule with some remote work and some office work. There is more flexibility in both scheduling and utilizing the space. The pandemic has taught us to be flexible. Hosting meetings on Zoom has increased participation. Our workshops and roundtables used to have 15 people in attendance, usually the same ones. Now we have around 200 people attending via Zoom. It’s also more environmentally friendly because we don’t have to drive that much.
SD: Final thoughts?
JS: Through its advocacy efforts the Catskill Center creates opportunities. We assess the region’s needs, and that’s what we advocate for when we go to Albany. We have aspirational goals looking towards the future, but at the same time we focus on objectives that are reasonable and doable.
Founded in 1969, the Catskill Center’s mission is to protect and foster the environmental, cultural, and economic well-being of the Catskill Region. Learn more at catskillcenter.org.
Read our interview with Kerri Green, President & CEO of Commerce Chenango who serves on several workgroups in the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, including Tourism Business Development (newly created last summer), and Advanced Manufacturing. Kerri is also a contributor to the Southern Tier Economic Recovery Strategy Report. We review the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (you can read more about it at https://simonadavid.com/2021/07/21/the-southern-tier-economic-recovery-strategy-2021/), and the top priorities for the Southern Tier in light of the post-pandemic recovery efforts. Community engagement through small business networks and chambers of commerce is critical in ensuring the success of these programs.
This is part of a series of interviews with business leaders to highlight current business issues and identify trends.
Kerri Green is the President and CEO of Commerce Chenango, and the Executive Director of Development Chenango (the Economic Development arm of Chenango), the Chenango County Industrial Development Agency, and the Chenango Foundation. Her Chamber experience is widespread and over the years has served on the boards of the Sidney, Otsego, and Delaware Chambers. Kerri served as President of the Sidney Chamber for three years, and is a founding member of the Young Professional Network in Otsego County. She currently serves on a number of boards including the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, the Southern Tier 8 Regional Planning Board, the Chenango County Planning Board, Chenango Health Network, Family Planning of South Central New York, and is the President of the Sidney Central School Board of Education, where she has served as a board member for over 15 years. Under Kerri’s leadership, Commerce Chenango took a central role during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a number of collaborations and programs that have been carried over into the daily practice of the organization. Kerri is a United States Army Veteran.
SD: Please, highlight some of the priorities included in The Southern Tier 2020 Economic Recovery Plan, and the workgroups’ efforts to identify these priorities.
KG: In the summer of 2020 Empire State Development (ESD) got together with the Regional Council and the workgroups and asked us to begin working on a COVID-19 recovery plan for the Southern Tier. All the regions in the State were asked to do this – we were looking at the direct impact of COVID-19 and what we could do to address that and plan our recovery. At that time, in the summer, things were still very much shut down, we were very much still in the pandemic, but the State was beginning to open up a little bit more. All the workgroups in the Southern Tier were asked to look at how their specific industries were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned, things that they had wished they had more information about, etc. The State was looking for ways in which it could help down the road – six months, twelve months, and longer, and needed to know what these industries might need from the State in terms of funding, technical assistance, etc. It was a big task that we were asked to do. The workgroups met throughout the month of August and gathered data. We created a Writing Committee, which I served on, and collected all the information from the workgroups and created a document called “2020 Economic Recovery Strategy: SOUTHERN TIER” which can be found on the website at https://regionalcouncils.ny.gov/sites/default/files/2021-04/Southern-Tier_Regional-Economic-Recovery-Strategy_Final.pdf. Each workgroup conducted surveys, talked to industry leaders, and community members to assess what the greatest needs were.
Some of the most important issues that were identified included workforce, money, PPE, facility upgrades, and remodeling to meet the requirements of social distancing, etc. We also got some really good stories from companies that were able to shift their model to address some of the needs in the area. I serve on several workgroups, including Tourism Business Development, which was newly created last summer, and one of the stories that I love is about a distillery in Delaware County, Union Grove, which shifted its model to make hand sanitizers. Stories like this show that people were thinking out of the box, and were doing what they could.
SD: Talk a little bit more about the workgroups you serve on, and the type of efforts that are being made to keep the community engaged.
KG: There are six workgroups: Advanced Manufacturing, Food and Agriculture, Greater Binghamton Innovation Ecosystem, Innovative Culture, Tourism Business Development, and Workforce Development. I serve on two: Tourism Business Development, which as I mentioned before was newly created last summer, and Advanced Manufacturing. Each workgroup feeds into each other’s work. Last summer I also served on the Writing Committee which compiled the data from all the workgroups and created the Recovery Plan. What the State asked us to do was to look at short-term, medium-term, and long-term needs for each industry such as funding, policies, and what the State could do to help more.
Some big themes that emerged from the conversations we had last summer included broadband, childcare, and workforce challenges. In the Tourism Business Development workgroup affordable housing and non-traditional childcare, especially for workers in the tourism industry, emerged as the most important issues. In the Advanced Manufacturing workgroup, the supply chain issues were the most urgent. And there are still some supply chain issues today, a year after we created that plan. These are issues that affect companies in the Southern Tier.
Last month all workgroups submitted revisions to include changes that occurred since last summer when we didn’t know how the future was going to look like – what do we know now that we didn’t know then, how the priorities have shifted, etc. These changes are reflected in the “2021 Economic Recovery Strategy” for the Southern Tier which is coming out soon.
SD: Let’s talk a bit about The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, and how that feeds into your work.
KG: The American Rescue Plan funds go to counties and municipalities. We at the Regional Council can talk to municipalities, but the municipalities decide how to spend these funds. A lot of them have earmarked that money for things that they need in their communities. Some counties are doing a great job in trying to get the money to businesses and the tourism industry, and arts and culture, and other sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic and have no ways to recover what they lost, but others aren’t doing that much. Some municipalities are engaging their business community and the local chamber, and others are not. There is not one way to do it. But there are ways to be collaborative, and I wish more were doing that.
SD: Let’s talk a little bit about your work with Commerce Chenango. What makes chambers of commerce important in this business climate?
KG: The Chamber work is critical. And sometimes people do wonder about the value of membership. Let’s just look at the pandemic, for example. Organizations like mine took a front and center approach when it came to this global health crisis. We advocated and got ourselves a seat at the table in terms of what was happening at the State level. I was the Chenango County representative in the Control Room, and was able to provide support and guidelines to businesses from wearing masks to social distancing and vaccinations. We are in a unique position in Chenango County, because Commerce Chenango is the Chamber of Commerce, but is also the Economic Development Agency for the County, and we also operate as the Tourism Agency for the County. Our work really affects a broad range of businesses and people around the county. Throughout the pandemic we called businesses to ask about their needs, we made ourselves available, we hosted webinars. We did this not just for the Chamber members, but for all the businesses in the county and even businesses that aren’t in our county. And the challenges continue throughout the recovery process. I think people in my position have the responsibility to be those boots on the ground and have those conversations with businesses. We at Commerce Chenango had in 2020 the biggest number of new members we had in the last decade. People were appreciative of the information that we were giving, and they wanted to be supportive. I think 2021 is going to be a banner year for us.
SD: Are new people moving to the area, and opening new businesses?
KG: Yes. People are hopeful. They see our part of the State as a place where they want to be, it feels safe. I get calls all the time from businesses looking to relocate.
SD: What are some of the current programs that you are working on with the Chamber?
KG: I am very happy we are getting somewhat back to normal. We recently had our Commerce Chenango Gala, the first in-person event in over a year, very well attended. We will host our Golf Tournament later in July, and in the fall we will have our annual Membership Luncheon. We’re looking forward to having our job fair again soon. Businesses are getting back to somewhat normal. We just made a major announcement at the Gala: the Development Chenango Corporation (which is the economic development arm of Chenango County, and lives under Commerce Chenango) is in the final stages of purchasing a building in Norwich and we are going to launch a capital campaign at the end of the summer to raise $1 million to make some improvements, which will hopefully make the building attractive to a developer. The plan is to create a boutique hotel and we are very excited about this project. The lack of available quality hotel space in this area has been a real issue. This is an investment in the community and the ripple effect will be a game changer for Chenango County. You can learn more about this project at https://cca.commercechenango.com/NewsArticle.aspx?dbid2=NYCOCH&newsid=15073 and https://www.evesun.com/news/stories/2021-07-20/35019/Planners-aim-for-boutique-hotel-in-Norwich-within-two-years?fbclid=IwAR0xaE8lj6yJzW2inDQ0GL-WNGFdGSGX-zwImIarmA0O7pYmMb6nniPUjlo
SD: What other business trends have you been noticing?
KG: The use of QR codes in restaurants instead of handing out printed menus is something that I personally appreciate. The use of social media – social media has ebbs and flows, but I think the pandemic has heightened the need for social media. Younger generations use Facebook less, and TikTok and Snapchat more, and that is something that businesses need to be cognizant of. I see a lot of businesses that don’t have a website, and rely instead on their Facebook page for outreach. I also think businesses need to be more creative with their hiring model. Bonuses, alternative work schedules, being accommodating to employees, and giving people a good quality of life are important. It’s going to be a balancing act for businesses to attract the workers that they want but remain profitable. Younger generations, like my daughter for instance who is graduating college next year, want to have a meaningful job, and they’re interested in the quality of life, something that employers need to take into account. The pandemic forced businesses to allow remote work, and I think working remotely will remain a preference for many employees.
SD: How should counties and municipalities approach the ARP funding and set priorities?
KG: I think they should approach it more broadly to make the most impact. They have to take a look at the industries that were hit the hardest, and do not have an easy way to recover those funds. Arts and culture, events, small businesses – be as collaborative as you can, and be transparent. Organize public forums, ask for input. At the end of the day, municipalities have the ultimate decision on how to use these funds, but it should be done openly and transparently.
This year marks the tenth anniversary since the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) were created as a new economic development strategy in New York State, replacing the older top-down model with an innovative bottom-up approach that is meant to increase local stakeholders’ participation in shaping the vision and the priorities of each region. Since 2011 over $6.9 billion in State funding has been awarded to over 8,300 projects. Through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) a diverse range of projects has been funded thus far from hospitality and tourism initiatives to high-tech manufacturing and business incubators.
In 2011 Governor Cuomo created ten Regional Economic Development Councils: Western New York, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital Region, Mid-Hudson, New York City, and Long Island.
Each Council has developed its own strategic economic development plan to bolster economic activity, create new businesses, revitalize downtowns, invest in technology, and train skilled workforce. These plans address specific challenges and capitalize on unique assets that each region has to offer to allocate resources judiciously and stimulate economic activity. The plans are updated annually to include new challenges and opportunities. In 2021 specifically the post COVID-19 recovery efforts have become essential as well as investments in a more resilient economy. Public outreach and engagement are paramount in delineating actionable goals for each region.
Regional Councils are organized in workgroups formed by stakeholders representing each region and engaging with local officials, businesses, community organizations, and academia to identify priorities, set goals, and design and implement strategies that best suit each region’s economic development objectives. The workgroups play an important role in identifying strong projects that can advance regional and state priorities.
In 2015 The Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and Central New York regions became the winners of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) awards in the amount of $1.5 billion, with each region being awarded $500 million to spend on economic development projects over the span of five years.
In The Southern Tier the expectation was that the URI investment of $500 million would leverage more than $2.5 billion in private investment, create more than 10,200 jobs and have an overall economic impact of $3.4 billion over the span of five years. The focus has been on revitalizing distressed communities, spearheading innovation, attracting foreign investment, increasing exports, leveraging the region’s natural resources, strengthening regional industries ranging from advanced manufacturing to agriculture and tourism, and building a regional brand.
The Southern Tier’s regional priorities, which are addressed by the workgroups include: The Greater Binghamton Innovation Ecosystem, Advanced Manufacturing, Food and Agriculture Industry, Innovative Culture, and Tourism Business.
The 2020 global pandemic caused disruption and forced the region to re-set its priorities. The Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council has prepared an Economic Recovery Strategy that addresses COVID-19 related issues and reshapes the focus of the workgroups. The plan includes input from local municipalities, economic development agencies and industrial development agencies to bolster the economic recovery of the region and build resilience. The co-chairs of The Southern Tier Regional Council Dr. Kevin Drumm and Judy McKinney-Cherry described the plan as “pragmatic, ambitious, and forward-focused.”
The following overarching themes have emerged, and they will inform policy recommendations:
Expanding broadband access
Quality, affordable, and available childcare
Creating a unified workforce strategy
Statewide priorities include: childcare, economic and environmental justice, placemaking and downtown revitalization, and workforce development.
In 2021 the Regional Economic Development Councils compete for $150 million in capital funds and $75 million in Excelsior Tax Credits. Over thirty state programs participate in the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) for state economic development resources from multiple agencies, representing a combined pool of grants, tax credits, and low-cost financing totaling over $750 million. Project readiness and the alignment with the strategic plan are of essence. The application process is open from May 10 to July 30. Learn more at https://apps.cio.ny.gov/apps/cfa/
“I have a feeling that in art the need to understand and the need to communicate are one,” remarked Hedda Sterne, revered Surrealist painter.
Coming out of a 14-month once in a century pandemic, we take a moment to reflect on this monumental experience and make sense of the changes we have witnessed around us thus far.
Artists have extraordinary perceptual abilities, an attribute that Marshall McLuhan referred to as “integral awareness,” something that will guide us through the process of re-gaining meaning in a post-pandemic world. Societal forces play their role as well in influencing the artistic product from idea to execution and reception of the artwork in the field as the artist and his or her social surroundings are interdependent.
The pandemic took a year out of our otherwise normal life – everything was turned upside down. The unexpected circumstance changed our mindset, and forced us to adapt like never before. It also provided the sudden opportunity to slow down and re-think priorities. The post-pandemic world will look a lot different than the pre-pandemic one.
But how exactly does the art world respond to this colossal transformation in our life?In her seminal book “Meaning and Expression: Toward a Sociology of Art,” first published in Germany in 1967, Hanna Levy Deinhard exemplarily illustrated how humans are able to distinguish in a work of art its visual expression from its meaning. While visual expression however remains relatively constant over time, its meaning is subject to change. Deinhard strived to reconcile the everlasting contradiction in art between the artwork as a timeless object and the artwork as an expression of its time.
The American Rescue Plan Act (The ARP Act), signed into law in March this year, is a transformative undertaking that will re-shape our communities and business climate for decades to come. The $1.9 trillion spending package is the sixth federal relief package through which the federal government has allocated a total of $5.7 trillion to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that ensued as a result of it. The ARP Act includes $350 billion for “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.” As laid out by The Brookings Institution, “these funds will be deployed to state and local governments in two tranches (the first within 60 days and the second a year after that initial allotment) to mitigate the fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Rockefeller Institute identified the following allowable usages for these funds, included but not limited to:
addressing the COVID-19 emergency and its negative impacts;
assistance to households, businesses, non-profits and impacted industries;
restoring government services that were reduced in response to revenue losses;
investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure;
support for public transit;
offering premium pay to first responders and essential workers or grants for workers.
As communities make their decisions and set priorities, Brookings suggests a threefold approach:
stabilize operating budgets;
strategize (i.e., invest in infrastructure and small businesses);
and organize (i.e., set up public / private partnerships to set goals, and monitor and track results).
Since the beginning of the pandemic, some of the recovery efforts implemented across the country have included:
Training Programs / Coaching
Broadened Access to Capital
Reshoring (bringing manufacturing and services back to the United States from overseas)
Supporting Transition to New Career Paths
Digital Equity (expanding broadband and improving digital skills)
Strengthened Community Development Organizations
Building Capacity of Local Governance Organizations
Building Resilient Communities
Municipalities are currently inviting input from residents, businesses, and non-profit organizations to assess community needs and determine spending priorities. The City of Albany, for instance, has created a COVID Recovery Task Force and is asking businesses and residents to complete a survey that will inform decision-making.
The decisions made now will lead to vibrant and resilient communities in the months and years ahead – the stakes are high, and the investments must be strategic.