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New Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Survey Shows COVID-19's Impact On Arts Economy

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture surveyed grant recipients for an idea of how the arts sector is doing as the pandemic continues.  [STEKLO / Shutterstock.com]
A woman wears a mask while looking at art

COVID-19 continues its brutal march through the Northeast Ohio arts economy. New numbers from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture document a struggling creative sector that continues to fight back.

In Cuyahoga County, over 1,600 people in the arts were laid off, furloughed or had their hours reduced between January and June. That brings the total of county arts jobs affected during the pandemic to nearly 4,800, according to new numbers issued by public funder Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC). Reports filed by grant recipients, including Ideastream Public Media, provide a continuing picture of COVID-19’s negative impact.

Executive director Jill Paulsen said the latest report also documents how arts organizations have dramatically altered their operations in an attempt to cope and keep audiences safe.

“The first six months of this year saw almost 15,000 arts events offered in a way that was changed or altered because of COVID,” she said

That included such strategies as moving events online or reducing audience capacity.

From its survey of grant recipients, CAC reported that area arts organizations lost over $146 million between March 2020 and last June. While that was somewhat offset by just over $81 million in federal funds, the region is still feeling a whole lot of economic pain.

“Where some folks might not be in an immediate crisis, what we're now seeing is like a prolonged recovery at best,” Paulsen said.

Paulsen pointed to further data from the national consulting firm Wolf-Brown that indicates audiences are showing a renewed hesitancy about returning to concert halls and other arts venues.

“It was recently on this positive uptick,” she said. “Unfortunately, the most recent data that they have show almost a 20 percent decrease in interest.”

The local concert industry has recently moved to partially answer such skepticism through the use of mobile apps for vaccination verification. This comes in the wake of a black market for fake vaccination cards. Paulsen said there are currently efforts to promote a common proof of vaccine platform.

“So, if you're going to a bar one night, in a club one night, in a museum one night, that you can use the consistent platform,” she said. “So, we're kind of working on that level right now.”

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