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MA Top 30 Professional of the Year: Heather Noonan
By John Fleming
December 29, 2021


Vice President, Advocacy
League of American Orchestras

As the League of American Orchestras’ longtime advocate in Washington, D.C., Heather Noonan has been an indispensable guide through the maze of federal COVID-related emergency funding initiatives, most of which she was instrumental in convincing Congress to pass in the first place. These included the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, Shuttered Venues Operating Grants, and the IRS Employee Retention Tax Credits program. She also argued for and instructed would-be recipients through expanded unemployment benefits for gig workers and the universal charitable deduction that encourages those who don’t itemize tax returns to give more. Noonan’s efforts for the League—in coalition with the Performing Arts Alliance, the National Council of Nonprofits, and other arts advocacy groups—provided a lifeline to artists, presenters, orchestras, opera companies, etc., at a time when earned income vanished.

Federal support for the arts in the pandemic was unprecedented. “This has been the most substantial direct federal assistance that the arts community has ever seen,” said Noonan, who joined the League in 1996. “When you take into account all the sources of support, it adds up to be a massive amount of federal intervention.” The value of assistance received by orchestras so far is estimated at more than $200 million. 

“Our goal was to make sure that the arts were recognized and eligible,” said Noonan, who credits League colleague Najean Lee as her invaluable partner in representing orchestras on Capitol Hill. “We needed to make the case not just that the arts had unique and specific needs but that they also needed full access to forms of support that were being developed for the wider employment sector.”

Beginning on March 13, 2020, Noonan worked remotely from her home near Annapolis. The job was 24/7 when pressure was on to influence the crafting of bills. “Legislation often comes together in the middle of the night, and the fine print really matters,” she said. Once passed into law, it was Noonan’s job to explain to the League’s 700 orchestra members what their options were, help them negotiate tight deadlines, and explain how often-complex online portals worked so they could apply for relief.

“All this entailed an extremely patient family, because I have two kids who were doing school from home during that time,” Noonan said. “They were in the same room with me while I was having conversations with policy makers. I think my 12-year-old might know more about employee retention tax credits than I do at this point.”

See Heather Noonan’s One to One interview.

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