New reports show extent of pandemic devastation in the arts in New York City, California and nationwide

A number of reports released since early 2021 provide better insight into the unprecedented impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had – and continues to have – on the arts and culture sphere in the United States. , which has millions of artistic workers and artists representing 3.4 percent of the total national workforce.

A report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office, released February 24, on the effects of COVID-19 on the arts, entertainment and recreation sector in New York City, which employed 128,400 workers in 2019 , found that employment fell by 66% in 2020. However, as the study itself points out, given that this figure does not take into account nearly 31,000 self-employed and self-employed workers, often the first to lose their jobs, the unemployment rate is probably higher.

Arts, entertainment and recreation employment, 2020

This drop, the most significant suffered by all sectors of the city, wiped out more than the 42% growth in this area during the decade 2009-2019. The comptroller’s report also cites an estimate from Womply, a software services company that tracks credit card transactions, that 59 percent of New York City’s arts and entertainment businesses closed in the past. last year, just behind the number of bars that have closed.

The fifteenth edition report by Otis College of Art and Design on California’s ‘creative economy’, which includes fine and performing arts, fashion, entertainment and digital media, creative goods and architecture, reveals that 175,360 jobs were lost in 2020. The February 25 report begins by mentioning the record growth (16%) of California’s creative economy between 2008 and 2019, which created 146,000 jobs during this period. But like New York, the massive loss of arts jobs over the past year is greater than the cumulative “record growth” of the previous 10 years.

The report says job cuts in the creative economy have “a massive ripple effect on supply chains and household spending,” and calculates that around 337,000 jobs have been lost as a result of secondary impacts. In total, the number of direct and secondary job losses due to “damage to the creative economy”, according to the report, stands at more than half a million in California.

Significantly, the Otis Report argues that “the entire creative ecosystem” existentially asks, “Will the new normal include them?” during the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

Referring to the grossly insufficient support given to the creative sector, the Otis report also observes: “The past year has painfully illustrated how public and private support systems designed to protect and support individuals in the creative economy have come together. either frayed or completely broken.

SUR by Xefirotarch at the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens, New York (Photo credit – Geoff Stearns)

A continuous series of studies (updated March 1) by arts nonprofit “Americans for the Arts”, on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts, interviewed 33,000 artists and creators and 19,000 arts organizations.

Of the artists and workers surveyed, 63% have become completely unemployed because of the pandemic, and 95% report a loss of creativity-based income, averaging $ 21,800 over the past year. Some 67 percent do not have access to resources for creative work, while 78 percent do not have a post-pandemic financial stimulus package, and their main needs are unemployment insurance, food aid and housing and loan cancellation.

Of the nonprofit arts and culture organizations surveyed, 59% remain closed, while 11% are not convinced they will survive the pandemic. The financial losses of these organizations are estimated at more than 15 billion dollars and 898,000 jobs are no longer supported.

A national arts endowment (NEA) report released in January highlights the serious situation of performers in particular.

After listing worrying unemployment figures for actors (52%), dancers (55%) and musicians (27%) at the end of 2020, the NEA investigation continues: “Long before COVID-19, independent artists and musicians have often struggled to obtain long term or constant income, embodying the “gig economy” and sometimes personifying the axiom of “the starving artist”. The chronic lack of access to affordable, employer-sponsored health care for independent performers or “concerts” created even greater vulnerability and financial burden during the pandemic. This is the sad reality of the “richest country in the world”, the bastion of “free enterprise”.

The NEA report continues: “Finally, the restaurant and hospitality industry – a regular source of second or third jobs – has also been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, further exacerbating the short- and long-term prospects for recovery. “

New York State Theater (Photo credit – David Shankbone)

Also commenting on the main shortcomings of arts support programs at federal, state and local levels, the NEA writes: “These new supports are by no means sufficient to compensate for the expected losses to the arts and culture sector. . The amount of relief granted to date is disproportionate to the sector’s economic footprint.

Consistent with other reports, the NEA study warns of more jobs being lost in the near future, as well as permanent closures of arts organizations if current trends continue, concluding that “the proportional loss for the artistic and creative output of the country can prove to be incalculable. “

This crisis, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic that began almost exactly a year ago, is starting to generate protests from artists and arts workers against the severe lack of support they have received.

Artists rallied outside the office of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York City last week, calling for a modern Works Progress Administration (WPA) – the New Deal program of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which aided artists during the Great Depression. The rally was organized by the Music Workers Alliance, which estimates that 71% of musicians and DJs in New York have lost three quarters or more of their income, 33% have used up their savings, 33% are looking for a new job in other fields and 15% have had to move to save money.

Cuomo’s preferred approach to the crisis, needless to say, does not include full and direct funding for desperate artists and arts organizations, but rather pushes for a swift reopening of the arts and entertainment sector, whatever the price. At a press conference last month, the governor of New York arrogantly asserted, “There are sites that we want to start reopening with testing and capacity limitations. Theaters, arenas, why can’t you do it with Broadway? You can.”

Studies from New York and California also indicate that reopening is the primary remedy for devastation in the arts. “The Fine Arts and Performing Arts sector must start preparing for its reopening,” says the Otis report, for example.

This policy of prematurely relaunching cultural events with a live audience gathered inside, which threatens the spread of disease and death from COVID-19, in order to “save” artists, art workers from ruin. and artistic organizations – arises from the acceptance of the profit system and the financial interests of the capitalist class, not the welfare of art and culture and those who participate in their creation.

The massive sums accumulated by Wall Street crooks and corporate oligarchs should be used to provide income for workers, artists and arts organizations as long as the pandemic persists. No one should be forced to choose between being hungry or giving up their profession, on the one hand, and death from COVID-19, on the other.

The only way to move forward towards a society that prioritizes social and cultural needs is through the mobilization of the working class on a socialist basis.

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