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How Dancers and Dance Organizations Can Prepare for the Financial Fallout of COVID-19

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.


In this unprecedented situation, many of us are reeling. Here's what you can do to brace for the financial impact of coronavirus, no matter your degree of preparedness.

For Dancers 

If you are losing out on work, or if you get sick and are worried about medical bills, there is help. This crowdsourced list of resources for freelance artists includes several emergency funds that help with unexpected expenses, including local funds in several cities and states.

Freelance dancers also started the NYC Low-Income Artist/Freelancer Relief Fund to raise money to help fellow dancers. You can take their survey to apply for funding, or if you're able, donate to help others. The Dance Union podcast is now raising money for a similar fund, with information to come about how to apply.

Contact your representatives. The federal government is shaping its coronavirus relief plan now, and it's important to make sure the nonprofit dance community and freelance workers are included. Dance/USA, as a founding member of the Performing Arts Alliance, is running an ongoing campaign to ensure dance is supported in the federal COVID-19 relief packages. They have an easy tool to help you contact your U.S. representatives, and you can find all your state and local representatives here.

Be sure to document any lost work as thoroughly as possible, as this will be important when it comes time to apply for aid. New York-based dancers should take Dance/NYC's Coronavirus Impact Survey to help them gather data for their advocacy work. Lawyer Jo-Ná Williams is offering a webinar on Tuesday, March 17, to help dancers affected by gig cancellations and reschedules understand their contracts and legal options for getting paid.

It's ideal to have three to six months' worth of cash savings set aside for situations like this, says Darren Sussman, founder of the Institute of Financial Wellness for the Arts, which offers free financial coaching for dancers. However, many dancers find it hard to set aside money because their incomes are unstable in the first place—and few people were prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. If you don't have savings, says Sussman, do everything you can to save money right now. Fortunately, staying in and cooking at home helps with this. If you have disability insurance, look at your policy—Sussman says that some policies cover you in instances of work interruption.

"Be resourceful," he says. If your dance gigs are canceled, is there remote work that you can take on? Many dance classes are canceled, but people staying home from work and school will be bored and looking to keep their routines intact. If you're a teacher, offer virtual classes, or record a class and sell it.

When this crisis is over, remember it when you're planning for the future. "This moment is a perfect example of why it's so important to plan your finances in a balanced way, with a mix of asset classes including some stocks, some bonds, and some cash savings," says Sussman. For emergency situations when you need money right away, it's important to have an easily accessible cash savings or money market account. It's also important not to invest all your money in stocks, because sometimes the market will plunge, as it's doing now. However, if you've been waiting for a moment to start investing, now is actually a great time. "You can buy cheap right now, and when the market comes back, you'll be benefiting greatly," says Sussman.

For Dance Organizations

Every organization should have a business continuity plan, says Jan Newcomb, executive director of National Coalition for Arts' Preparedness and Emergency Response. If you haven't made one, you can do it right now. First, make a crisis communication plan—like a phone tree—so that no staff members will be left out of the loop. And have everyone sit down and write out a summary of their job duties.

"Think about what it is that you do daily, and weekly, and what the steps are that you take to do those tasks," says Newcomb. This will help you figure out what can be done without going into a physical office, and help other members of your team step in if someone falls ill.

Make sure your external communications are also clear and consistent, and that your event cancellation policy is transparent. If you have not yet canceled events entirely, make it as easy as possible for sick people to stay home. Newcomb suggests offering refunds—you can always give patrons the option of donating their refund back to you. Learn more about continuity planning and crisis management through this webinar from Event Safety Alliance.

Many nonprofits receive grant funding that comes with specific rules, such as a timeframe in which a funded project has to be completed, or restrictions on how the money can be spent. If coronavirus has interfered with your project timeline or budget, don't panic. "Funders know what's going on, and they want to help," says Newcomb. "I don't think it would be a problem to write a program officer and say, this is what we're doing, we're making decisions based on these criteria. Just keep everybody informed, and show them that administratively you're put together."

The Small Business Association's Paycheck Protection Program offers loans designed to keep employees on payroll—they are fully forgiveable if used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees and private non-profits are both eligible.

If you are a New York City-based small business, like a dance studio, you may qualify for a zero-interest loan to help cover loss of revenue. It is not yet clear whether or not nonprofits will be eligible for this program. Organizations in New York should complete Dance/NYC's Coronavirus Impact Survey. Americans for the Arts is also collecting data on the financial impact of coronavirus and has resources for organizations. Lawyers Alliance has this helpful guide for understanding your organization's legal responsibilities in this situation.

"Even if you think your insurance will not help, you should still put in a claim. The more data they have about the financial impact of this, the better off everyone is," says Newcomb. Many insurance policies explicitly do not cover disease outbreaks, but your claim will still provide data that could spur further government intervention.

In-person events may be canceled, but you can keep patrons engaged and revenue coming in by getting creative. Vimeo is offering advice on how to plan virtual events, and you can learn how to host a Facebook Watch Party here. You can find more preparedness resources through NCAPER; keep an eye out for a new online hazards planning tool they will be rolling out in June.

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