A recent Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) survey found that Arts organizations in the Greater Boston Area lost over $161 million in projected revenue as a result of COVID-19, and will need two years to recoup that crippling loss. As those among the first to close their doors to stop the spread of transmission, and as they are Phase 4 institutions who will be the last to reopen their doors, Coronavirus has placed the Arts in a financially devastating position.
Unlike retail establishments or restaurants, they can’t offer curbside pick-up or delivery to your door. Arts organizations’ ability to offer programming, and profit from it, heavily relies on access to physical space. With venue closures beginning in early March, and likely continuing until at least January 2021, the skyrocketing rents, high insurance fees, and payroll costs that troubled this already beleaguered and underfunded sector of our economy pre-pandemic, now seem insurmountable without regular funding streams and intentional government support.
Reopening for the Arts means significant changes. Reducing occupancy, adjusting concessions, upgrading HVAC and ventilation systems, installing handwashing facilities, and more will change core programming, and that requires funding. MCC’s cost estimate for a statewide recovery strategy implementation stands at a meager $117 million. Comparatively, the Arts infused $2 billion into Boston’s economy in 2019, and draws in 21 million attendees each year – more than the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, Boston Bruins, and Celtics combined. Continued inaction will only cause acute financial devastation across the Commonwealth, and the only way to ensure a sector-wide return of this crucial economic driver is a significant state funding stream for Arts recovery.
The State must step in with meaningful support, as federal relief efforts have fallen flat. CARES Act funding for the Arts only went to institutions that previously received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. While “High Arts” organizations like the Boston Ballet and the Boston Symphony Orchestra benefited, the process failed to reflect or include the small and mid-sized Arts organizations that make up the heart and soul of our Central Square Cultural District.
Despite other municipalities being forced to make tough budget cuts, Cambridge is in a fortunate financial position, with a $585,000 funding increase slated for the Arts in the 2021 Fiscal Year. The City also partnered with the Cambridge Community Foundation to raise and disperse over $260,000 to Arts organizations and individuals artists as immediate COVID-19 relief in March. Overall, Cambridge is doing far more for it’s Arts community than most other cities. But, it is still not enough.
If the situation continues course without intentional financial support from every level of government, expect sector-wide closures with staggering ripple effects to ensue. Aside from the artists, dancers, actors, musicians, and other creatives that put on shows and fill art galleries, countless behind-the-scenes workers that run operations will be hurt. Across Massachusetts, the equivalent of 71,000 full-time jobs are created by the Arts industry, and each and every one of them is at risk of disappearing if swift action is not taken.
The Arts are a pervasive, wide-reaching economic driving force that extends far beyond itself. In Massachusetts, art event attendees annually spent $877 million on meals, souvenirs, ground transportation, and other indirect audience expenses pre-pandemic. Without the foot traffic and business that the Arts attract, restaurants, retail stores, bars, and hotels’ struggles will only intensify. Simply put, the economy will not, and cannot, recover without greater support for the Arts.
The Arts have served an invaluable role these past few months. Whether it’s bingeing a new Netflix series, watching an impromptu concert on FaceBook Live, or learning new moves at a virtual dance class, they’ve brought joy into our lives when we’ve needed it the most. For that, we owe them a great debt, and repayment of that debt must come quickly.
If we want to emerge from this public health crisis with the Arts community that enriches our lives, lifts our spirits, and sustains our Main Street economy, we must act now. Rent cancellations, tax incentives for rent-forgiveness, requirements for landlords to bring spaces up to code without passing costs onto tenants, and capital funds for improvements are just a few critical ways to uplift our struggling Arts community. Amid subpar federal efforts and financial limitations for municipalities, worthwhile relief can only come from the State. Please help put the building blocks for a strong economic recovery into place by joining me in advocating for the Arts. Contact your State Representatives and Senators today and urge them to take immediate action to fund recovery for the Arts as outlined by MCC, and uplift the sector that gives so much back.
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