Statement on COVID-19

Dear AITF Members:

I hope that this message finds you healthy and safe during this unprecedented time in our lives.  We know that you and your institutions have made many changes in recent weeks.  This has all transpired so rapidly.  A global pandemic has significantly altered our lives and posed substantial public health risks.  A concurrent economic crisis is a major threat to ourselves and our communities.

Anchor institutions are more important than ever, while they are facing increases pressures and crises.  The value of hospitals has been on display globally.  But we can see that a public health crisis requires additional capacity for health anchors.  The need for additional space, personnel, and equipment in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is tremendous.  Institutions of higher education have been totally disrupted in recent weeks.  Courses have been moved online, graduation ceremonies have been cancelled, and revenue has declined.  For some institutions of higher education, the loss of typical revenue streams is a threat to their existence.  This is also the case for many arts and cultural anchors, which have been deprived of their audiences.  Some industries that have been fundamental to their communities have been simply shut down, threatening the sustainability of small businesses and creating massive unemployment.  Community based non-profit organizations that require consistent donations simply cannot survive when their contributors are no longer able to give or are simply preoccupied with new challenges in their lives due to this crisis.

Simultaneously, we know we cannot get through this crisis without the engagement of anchor institutions and sustained democratic collaboration across sectors in communities.  Hospitals will be the centers for treating COVID-19 patients; institutions of higher education will conduct research to help manage and cure the virus.  Over the last few weeks, anchor institutions have been responding in their communities.  Many community foundations have established funds to address the needs of community based nonprofits, arts and cultural organizations, and others.  As the need for additional space for hospital beds becomes more apparent, various anchor institutions with significant landholdings – from universities to convention centers to sports franchises – are making their facilities available to help hospitals extend treatment beyond their sites.  Some corporate anchors are re-orienting their production to develop vital medical supplies.

Over the weeks to come, we know many stories will emerge about the ways in which anchors are contributing in their communities.  We will continue to monitor these developments.  And we would like to hear from you.  AITF provides a forum for learning exchange among representatives of anchor institutions to strengthen the work you do in your communities.  We hope that AITF can be a resource for you as you and your partners navigate this unprecedented crisis.  We will all need guidance, mutual support and learning going forward.

AITF’s values remain as essential as ever – a commitment to social justice and equity, democracy, collaboration, and place.  AITF promotes the role that anchor institutions can play in stimulating equitable growth in communities and improving outcomes in pressing issue areas.  This purpose takes on a different meaning right now.  AITF has emphasized how to leverage the resources of anchor institutions in ways that expand access and opportunities for people who are most adversely affected by persistent inequities. We know that in such moments of crisis, the most vulnerable populations are especially of concern.  A challenge of this magnitude only exacerbates existing inequities.

Overall, many of our communities will be devastated by COVID-19 and its various impacts.  When we get through this uniquely daunting period, our communities will need rebuilding.  Anchor institutions will be tasked with working together across sectors to strengthen their neighborhoods, cities, towns, and regions.

AITF’s values and efforts to strengthen democratic, transformative partnerships emphasizing equitable development and racial equity are as important as ever.  Our approach will be crucial to a successful future.  Ultimately, the impacts and aftermath of this crisis will have to be addressed in localities.  AITF’s role is to be a resource to help anchor institutions enhance their ability to make vital contributions necessary to stabilize and improve communities.  We have begun capturing some of the ways in which anchors’ roles are changing and creating a central repository of information on this new reality.  We will continue to be a forum for sharing the successes, challenges, and future directions of democratric anchor-community partnerships dedicated to genuine equity.  Given the current crisis and the radically changed situation we are and will be facing, we plan to strengthen and redouble our efforts going forward.

As AITF plans the remainder of this year, we continue to monitor the situation and adapt our efforts where necessary.  We don’t know what will be the state of affairs in November, when our annual conference is scheduled.  But as of now, we are still planning to hold our conference on November 5 and 6 in New York City.  Whenever we hold the conference, the role of anchor institutions in their communities in crisis situations will be a central theme of our discussion and the examples we expect to highlight.  We will certainly be in touch throughout the year.  Our subgroups are continuing to meet, and we will continue to track and disseminate how anchor institutions are responding in their communities.

Best wishes to you, your institutions, and your communities in traversing uncharted waters in the weeks to come.

Warm Regards,