COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Ohio’s arts and creative industry could be far from recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 health crisis. A recent survey from advocacy group Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA) is painting a clearer picture of the pandemic’s toll on the sector.
“It’s really gutted this industry, an industry that really is at the backbone of prosperity and quality of life and building strong communities,” said OCA executive director Angela Meleca.
40 OCA members who responded to the group’s survey reported they’ve lost a collective $136 million in revenue since March 2020. Given the scope of the industry statewide, Meleca estimates the industry overall took a $1 billion hit over the past year.
“There’s no carry-out in the arts. So there was no opportunity for these organizations, these businesses to generate any kind of revenue,” she said.
The survey also found some organizations expect it could take up to 24 months to return to pre-pandemic revenue levels.
“We’re definitely not out of the woods yet. Our organizations are going to need more support from all levels over the course of the recovery period,” said Jami Goldstein, the vice president of marketing at the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Goldstein explained the arts and creative industry saw some of the state’s highest unemployment numbers of any sector during the pandemic. Even with lifted health restrictions, many entertainment venues are struggling to hire back enough staff and come up with enough upstart money to open at full capacity.
“This isn’t something that you can just turn on a light switch and reopen. A majority of these organizations laid off 50 percent of their staff,” Meleca said. “We won’t likely see performing arts reopening to the public at 100 percent capacity probably until mid-fall I would say.”
Arts advocates are calling on state lawmakers to help with the recovery. OCA has been lobbying legislators to include $50 million in one-time funding in the upcoming state budget to help arts and entertainment organizations get back on track.
Goldstein said, “We are part of the recovery for us as a city, state, country as a whole. The arts are a critical, critical sector when we talk about the health of a community.”
The Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) recently approved $2.8 million in local grants to 25 area organizations. Goldstein said the annual funding was bolstered by support from Franklin County and the City of Columbus, in addition to bed taxes and arts and culture fees.
“We’re all surviving through a mix of all the legs of support. And I think that’s really the lesson here — that we need to continue to feed all of the legs of support,” she said.
In late 2020, OCA successfully lobbied for $20 million in CARES Act funding from the state. Survey respondents said the money was enough to sustain them for six weeks. Another round of federal funding for the arts was approved as part of the American Rescue Act, but Meleca said the additional state assistance will be critical in keeping organizations afloat.
“The tragedy will be that these organizations survived the pandemic, but perhaps can’t survive the recovery because they’ve burned through all of their reserves just to hang on throughout the pandemic,” she said.
On the local level, GCAC is preparing to issue another round of grants to professional artists. The deadline to apply for the program is July 1. Learn more about the grants by clicking here.