The Arts Matter

The pandemic's impact on the bottom line has left artists teetering on the brink.

While much has been written about how the pandemic has devastated restaurants and bars, the impact on the arts has not been given equal consideration.

According to experts at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research and analysis institution, “The structure of the arts and cultural industry leaves working artists and performers particularly vulnerable during catastrophes.”

Arts institutions, from galleries to theaters to performers, have faced months on end with little or no income with no plan for a return to the vibrancy of 2019.

RAND found that 27.4 percent of performing artists are unemployed while unemployment is at 14.5 percent for non-performing artists (visual artists, photographers, designers and writers). Making things worse is that self-employed worker eligibility for pandemic unemployment assistance will expire at the end of the year without Congressional action.

Yes, there are many virtual performances, but they pale when compared to the money generated at the box office in a normal year. A Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council analysis of local arts earlier this year found that 84 percent of organizations had to cancel performances, classes and exhibitions and nearly 68 percent had to temporarily close their facilities due to COVID-19. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, perhaps our best-known cultural export, expects a shortfall in earned revenue in excess of $5 million.

The impact on the bottom line has left artists teetering on the brink.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have a strong foundation community that has stepped up to support the creative community with millions of dollars in grants. In November, the Heinz Endowments announced it was giving $5.75 million to be divided among 37 organizations, ranging from major institutions such as The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to small powerhouses such as City of Asylum.

Is this news bleak? Yes. Is there hope? Just maybe.

The many artists that Lauren Davidson interviewed for our cover story found it difficult to be optimistic, but they weren’t giving up yet. Some cultural institutions won’t survive and those that do will need to be adaptable and creative moving forward. But they are taking on the challenge.

As we all struggle with the changes in our lives, we need artists to console us, inspire us and unite us. We hope we get the chance to show them soon how much we need them and how much we miss them.

Brian can be reached at bhyslop@pittsburghmagazine.com

Categories: Editor