As the national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, the arts were the first place the public turned to for solace, connection, and clarity. Simultaneously, it became increasingly apparent that artists themselves were also craving community and a place for collective action.   

Our response was to form the Artist Think Tank, a program chaired by Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Tony Award-winning actor, singer, music producer, and member of both the Board of Directors and the Artists Committee of Americans for the Arts. The Artist Think Tank was envisioned as a cross-discipline forum where artists could gather virtually around specific pressing topics, to discuss the ways in which the creative sector might help mediate change and navigate the challenges of the pandemic including equity and racial injustice, sector-wide economic devastation, and the now heightened flaws in support for the creative economy.  

This multidisciplinary cohort includes creative workers from across the sector—from on-stage and screen performers to behind-the-scenes workers; from artists and craftspeople to museum professionals; from singers and dancers to composers, choreographers, writers, directors, and producers. The group includes well established artists as well as those who are just emerging. A unique aspect of the Artists Think Tank is that it spans disciplines and provides a forum for sharing ideas with other creative workers, with whom they would not otherwise be in regular dialogue.  

Since its inception, the topics addressed in the Artist Think Tank have included the following, and more:

  • Arts advocacy: local, state, and federal  
  • Arts education advocacy
  • Approaches to safe audience engagement and reopening of cultural venues
  • Fair and equitable artist’s rights and compensation
  • Ways to put creative workers back to work
  • How messaging and communication can help the broader public better understand the essential need of the arts in life and community

These conversations have informed policy proposals and actions at the federal, state, and local levels including the push to advocate for economic relief provisions in the $2.3 trillion federal CARES Act for independent contractors, “gig economy” workers and artists, entrepreneurs, and small businesses working in the creative economy, as well as the policy position paper Put Creative Workers to Work which aims to rebuild and reimagine the United States post-pandemic through the hiring of members of the creative community.  

Americans for the Arts continues to convene the Artist Think Tank and to provide this group with regular legislative updates and advocacy alerts. The space continues to be an important and impactful avenue for intersectional community and advocacy. We now have over 700 artists and creative workers engaged in the program including artists from all disciplines, at every phase of their careers, and in all facets of the creative economy, including many Artists Committee members.  

For more information on the Artist Think Tank program, please contact Heather Flanagan via email at [email protected]