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Report Shows Cleveland Arts Sector Hit Hard By Pandemic

Socially-distanced seats in a theater are a mark of the pandemic's impact. [Melinda Nagy / Shutterstock]
Socially-distanced seats in a theater are a mark of the pandemic's impact

A new report shows the toll of the pandemic on Northeast Ohio’s arts community last year was severe.

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the agency that distributes cigarette tax revenue to support area arts activities, compiled 2020 data from 65 grant recipients, including ideastream. Executive director Jill Paulsen said the losses were drastic.

“We saw almost 3,200 jobs that disappeared, people laid off, canceled contracts,” she said. “And that was quite a bit of money when we think, nearing upwards of $16 million in paychecks for local folks.”

The survey reports those layoffs came in the wake of nearly $120 million in revenue lost in 2020 – a 30% income drop from the previous year. Organizations responded by cutting expenses and ramping up the use of online offerings.

“We're seeing some impressive things happening,” Paulsen said. “It's just complicated because, it's hard to charge for online. And organizations are trying to figure out how to make everything stretch while they're short staffed.”

For its part, Paulsen said CAC sped up the distribution of funds to its grantees, including about $3 million in federal CARES money.

“But, you know, the issues are intractable, and it's going to take a lot more than a few of these stopgaps,” she said. “So, I think there's a way that everyone can participate in the arts. Hopefully, everyone can still keep donating as they're able to or signing up for online classes and just getting ready to participate online for now and ramp up for, hopefully, the end of this year, when we've got some good vaccine coverage for our community.”

Some organizations have reopened their doors to a limited capacity, but a national study from McKinsey & Company predicts that it will take the arts sector another four years to truly recover.

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