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Cuyahoga Arts And Culture Survey Shows Pandemic's Economic Blow

Street dancers sport over-sized heads and traditional Mexican clothing at 2018's Parade the Circle [Roberto Galan / Shutterstock]
Street dancers sporting over-sized heads and traditional Mexican clothing at 2018's Parade the Circle.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting Northeast Ohio's arts community. Some numbers were released at Cuyahoga Arts and Culture’s (CAC) board meeting Thursday afternoon.

CAC polled 65 organizations that it supports through cigarette tax revenue - everyone from the Rock Hall and the Great Lakes Science Center to moCa Cleveland and the Ukrainian museum. ideastream also receives funding from CAC. 

“I've heard a lot of debate or discussion around saying our venues are empty or galleries are quiet and so are our classrooms,” said CAC executive director Jill Paulsen. “I'd like to push that narrative even a little bit further and say families are losing jobs and people are looking for work.”

Paulsen said arts sector jobs took a particularly heavy hit in recent months.

“We had reports of over 2,500 layoffs, furloughs or canceling of contracts, and that was totaling over $8 million in compensation” she said. “And that's probably a month old data right now.”

In addition, arts organizations reported a nearly $42-million loss of earned or contributed revenue. Over 6,000 local events and activities were canceled or delayed.

Soon after the pandemic sparked closures this past spring, CAC accelerated the process for getting funding to its grantees to keep some employees paid, if only temporarily.

“It was a quick thing we could do,” Paulsen said. “It really, we found, became a bridge for organizations who are applying for federal dollars to really make those payroll needs.”

The question is, will more bridges need to be built? A recent report from McKinsey and Company indicates the arts are facing a long recovery.

“This isn't going to be over this calendar year. It's not going to be be over next fiscal year,” Paulsen said. “That McKinsey report noted that arts and culture was going to be one of the last, if not the last sectors to come back to life. So we're talking about a four or five year wait.”

And that will be right around the time when the cigarette tax levy that funds CAC’s grants expires. The organization’s leaders have long emphasized that the cigarette revenue would be a dwindling source of income as more people quit smoking. Efforts are afoot to identify a replacement or additional revenue stream.

“That said, the minor silver lining right now is our dollars year-to-date for 2020 are on par with what they were in 2019,” Paulsen said. "So that just means we don't have extra dollars to go out the door, but it does give us some comfort in committing to groups for next year to say, 'we'll be here and we'll be with you and we'll keep our grants the same level again, pending board approval.' That's the game plan.”


David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.