Matthew-Lee is the co-founder of Arts Workers United, a 501c4 committed to making America’s 5.2 million Arts and Culture Workers, who drive $919 billion into our economy, an economic and legislative priority.

With AWU and independently, he has created and led multiple national campaigns, written and advanced policy at the state and federal levels (including the DAWN Act), and worked to secure the first-ever congressional hearing on Arts Workers in the House, which took place Jan 19, 2022. He serves on the Arts Leadership Council for Arts Alliance Illinois and is currently working on federal legislation for indepedent contractors and small businesses who operate in the creative economy.

For his national and state grassroots efforts, he has been interviewed/featured in multiple national media outlets, including NPR, MSNBC, CNN, PBS, WGN, Washington Post, New York Times, Harpers, Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago Reader, and Playbill, among others.

Jan 14, 2022


After a year of organizing and lobbying, Arts Workers United has secured a groundbreaking congressional event: on January 19th, the House Small Business Committee will hold an unprecedented hearing titled "The Power, Peril, and Promise of the Creative Economy."  This is our "Mr. Rogers" moment: the impact of next week's hearing will have both immediate tax consequences for you and long-term legislative outcomes that will determine the fate of the Creative Economy for the next century. You are being called into action.

Broadly, the event of this hearing is to tell the economic story of the 5.2M Arts & Culture Workers who drive $919B through over 675,000 businesses, in over 435 Congressional districts across this nation. Representing 4.3% of our GDP, our work generates more household income, jobs, and tax revenue than Agriculture and Mining combined, and $300B more than Transportation. We are big business because we are local business. Our institutions anchor, create, and sustain highly interdependent local commercial ecosystems across the country, grounding retail, transportation, tourism, hospitality, and millions of local jobs in our orbit. Therefore, it is imperative that we be made an economic and legislative priority through this hearing. Without immediate action, our industries--and our communities--face an economic collapse.

Along with our live testimony, we are delivering a set of policy recommendations as a roadmap to relief, recovery, and representation for our industries. Many of our bipartisan proposals have been introduced by the House and Senate, like HR4750, the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act, which would immediately give a tax break to rank-and-file arts workers who are in immediate need of economic relief. You can read more in the attached documents about a host of other common sense initiatives that will ease the tax burdens on individual workers while increasing the investment in commercial, non-profit, and arts-related businesses across the nation. And if you want, you can endorse them all here in less than three simple minutes! Easy!

Finally, and most importantly, we need your testimony for the congressional record. You have until February 3, 2022 to submit. We encourage you to write up something short and impactful. This committee is particularly interested in “recommendations for investments in key infrastructure and a roadmap for bringing arts, culture, and creativity into the center of long-term recovery.” Of note: while they are definitely still having some dialogue about COVID-related recovery questions, they’re also interested in more systemic/ongoing shifts that would help supercharge the creative economy and support creative workers. But you don't have to be a policy wonk to submit testimony--you can go to this letter template here which tells the SBC to pass all existing arts legislation. And feel free to make it your own! Easy!

How to submit testimony: Lauren Finks, who can be emailed at, is the House contact for statements. Make it clear that your testimony is related to the “Power, Peril, and Promise of the Creative Economy” hearing. Submit by Feb 3, 2022. Easy!

This is a singular moment in American history. We are resetting the narrative for the Creative Worker in America. And we need a mass mobilization.

The stage is set. The script is ready.

All that's left is for you to act.

In solidarity and gratitude,

Matthew-Lee Erlbach  
Co-Founder, Arts Workers United

Share my letter, originally published in American Theatre Magazine, and signed by over 16,000 Arts & Culture leaders and workers, across discipline, industry, and geography.


The $877 billion our industry generated last fiscal year is about to disappear. The 4.5% we added to our GDP—about to vaporize. We are second only to Retail as the most powerful economic driver of this economy, boasting an export of $72.6 billion and an annual growth rate of 4.16% , nearly double that of the U.S. economy as a whole at 2.2%. Without your immediate action for financial relief by August 1, we will collapse, and the result will be an economic cataclysm.

We are the Arts Economy. We are everywhere. And our fates are tied together.

We are over 675,000 small businesses and organizations in every town, city, and state, employing 5.1 million hard-working Americans who are now desperately struggling to stay above water. Our influence reaches across every sector because the Arts Economy is a jobs multiplier, creating millions of sustainable jobs in collateral arts-adjacent economies. In short, our institutions of Arts and Culture anchor communities, producing highly interdependent commercial ecosystems that depend on rank-and-file Arts Workers who increase tax revenue, real estate value, and attract businesses, large and small. These are the dominoes. If you lose us, we lose the economy. We need your help.

We are Florida’s largest job creator at 260,999 jobs, bringing in $36,937,050,840 (3.7%) to Florida’s state revenue. America’s favorite theme park which was built by union carpenters and construction workers, now runs on the working-class labor of the administrative staff who operate the day-to-day; the engineers who make it move; the electricians who keep it bright; the painters and pyrotechnicians who explode it with color; the custodians who keep it clean; and the actors, dancers, and musicians who bring it to life. We need your help.

We are New York City’s main economic driver: in 2019, Broadway sold more tickets than all the NY and NJ sports teams combined, creating a revenue of $1.83 Billion in ticket sales, generating even more in Arts-adjacent businesses. On any night out, our audiences take public transportation, taxis, and Ubers/Lyfts; pay for childcare; go shopping; and by record numbers, they go to restaurants which employ kitchen staff, waiters, and bussers who rely on food delivery trucks whose companies purchase goods from farmers, who are now mass killing their livestock and burning their crops because their industry is crashing. We need your help.

We account for $30.3 billion (3.7%) of the Illinois economy and contribute over 224,000 jobs. In Chicago, alone, that’s $2.25 billion in economic activity annually. If we go missing, the economic implosion in our neighborhoods, in our cities, and in our state will take decades to rebuild.

We are a $1 billion economy in Wyoming, $2.9 billion in Nebraska, $4.2 billion in Iowa, $7 billion in Utah, $8.3 billion in Indiana, $9 billion in Arizona, $10 billion in Missouri, $15 billion in North Carolina, $19 billion in Ohio, $24 billion in Georgia, $44 billion in Washington, $46 billion in Texas, and $230 billion in California. We are Big Business because we are Local Business, creating and sustaining jobs across trades, not to mention the Artists themselves.

Artists, whose creativity has elevated our best moments and now sustain us through one of our worst. Artists, who require your signature as a byline to one of the most consequential stories of your tenure; the story where you: 1. Extend Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) by August 1, before 28 million of your constituents are evicted and on the streets. 2. Create a 100% subsidy for COBRA to protect workers’ healthcare, with eligibility extended to 36 months. 3. Provide $43.85 billion in economic relief to sustain our Arts and Culture institutions: this relief should go directly to the NEA, NEH, IMLS, and CPB, to be appropriated to its partner organizations across the towns, cities, suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas in which they operate. This $43.85 billion is 5% of our generated revenue for 2019, which is proportionate to the $50 billionyou gave to the top ten airlines who successfully lobbied for your assistance. We ask for nothing more than immediate and proportionate economic relief.

The cost of this relief and FPUC’s extension of $85/day ($600 extra dollars a week) will pale compared to your inaction, which is estimated to cost trillions and will devastate working people. Families and individuals who depend on our colossal Arts Economy are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table as they face anxiety over whether they can make it past August 1. Our very humanity—and the Humanities—teeter at the edge of a fiscal and existential cliff. If we fall, so does the identity of America itself, for we are the very expression of this nation. And right now, we are crying out for your action.

Dear Senators, you are at your finest when you come together to hear the collective call of your people, onepeople, without prejudice to partisanship or politic, and with a heart full of love for all whom you represent. We are not only calling on you to represent us, we are calling on you to represent this moment. We are calling on you to represent our future. We are calling on you to represent the history  that you are about to make.

Dear Senators, now is your time. The nation is bearing witness. You hundred women and men stand at the center of America’s stage and we are calling upon you to act. You have the power to save your people and revitalize your country in its darkest hour. And we are desperate for Light.

Dear Senators, the ink is still wet, you hold the pen, and the story of this nation is in your hands.

Matthew-Lee Erlbach  
Co-Founder, Arts Workers United