TN Arts Commission to Distribute CARES Act Funds

From Anne B. Pope, Executive Director

The Tennessee Arts Commission was awarded $474,000 in National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) federal CARES Act funds and will receive another $60,000 in federal CARES Act funds from South Arts, the regional arts agency for southern states. The Commission will re-grant 100% of the federal CARES funds totaling $534,000 to approximately 190 arts organizations and local government entities with a distinct arts focus across the state.

These federal CARES funds are intended to be distributed as broadly as possible to help save jobs in the nonprofit arts sector and keep the doors open to arts organizations that add value to Tennessee’s economy and the creative life of our communities. 

In an effort to expedite federal CARES funding and to ensure proper management of federal dollars, these funds will be re-granted directly, without separate application, to Tennessee organizations meeting all of the eligibility requirements below: 

  • are nonprofit arts organizations or local government entities with a distinct arts focus as defined by the Commission 
  • have applied for and will receive a competitive Annual grant award in FY2021
  • have received Commission awards within one or more of the past three years (FY 2018, 2019 and/or 2020)

These non-matching award amounts are based on organization budget size with additional consideration for rural arts nonprofits. 

To spread CARES funding as broadly as possible, Tennessee arts organizations that win direct grants of $50,000 from the NEA will be excluded from the distribution of federal CARES funding through the Tennessee Arts Commission. The Commission has authorized allocations of CARES funds as shown below, with amounts to be adjusted based on the outcome of NEA direct grant awards, which the NEA indicates will be announced in late June 2020. 

The Commission’s official FY 2021 award notifications, including CARES Act funds, will be sent to applicants after the Tennessee General Assembly approves a revised state budget and the NEA announces its direct CARES Act awards. Both NEA direct CARES Act award decisions and TN legislative action to address state revenue shortfalls from the COVID-19 economic downturn are expected by July 1, 2020, the start of the new fiscal year.


The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act recognizes that the nonprofit arts industry is an important sector of the U.S. economy. As previously published, Congress appropriated $75 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) through the CARES Act. The NEA awarded 40% of these funds directly to state and regional arts agencies. The CARES Act funding amount for the Commission is $474,800 from the NEA and $60,000 through South Arts. 

The Commission defines an arts organization as one whose mission statement clearly states that the majority of its goals and activities are arts-focused, and whose budget clearly demonstrates arts-focus in the majority of the organization’s annual activities. The Commission’s definition of art encompasses the fine arts as well as ethnic, folk, and traditional forms.

The Commission is a member of South Arts. The nonprofit regional arts organization advances Southern vitality through the arts and was founded in 1975 to build on the South’s unique heritage and enhance the public value of the arts. For more information, visit

By comparison, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $326,550 to the Commission that was re-granted to thirteen Tennessee arts organizations in a stand-alone competitive process.