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One Year Later: Cultural Sector in Economic Crisis Due to Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

Cultural Organizations Report $588.3M in Lost Revenue; Artists Cite $30.4M in Lost Income; 30K Cultural Jobs Impacted Statewide

One year after the coronavirus arrived in Massachusetts, disrupting every aspect of life for residents, communities, and businesses, the Mass Cultural Council is releasing updated economic data measuring the COVID-19 pandemic’s staggering impact on the Commonwealth’s cultural sector for the fifth time.

“Our once booming, innovative, and vibrant cultural sector is in economic crisis,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Executive Director, Mass Cultural Council. “One year of closure and cancellations adds up to millions of dollars in lost revenue and income, and thousands of displaced and impacted workers statewide.”

Massachusetts nonprofit and municipal cultural organizations report an overwhelming $588,334,079 in lost revenue since March 2020, while the Commonwealth’s working creatives: individual artists, teaching artists, and scientists/humanists cite $30,403,616 in lost personal income due to the pandemic in Mass Cultural Council’s most recent COVID-19 impact survey of the cultural sector.

Total Lost Revenue Reported by 981 Cultural Organizations (in millions)

Throughout January and February of this year Mass Cultural Council collected financial and employment data from 100s of nonprofit and municipal cultural organizations and individual artists, teaching artists, and humanists to rearticulate the dire economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Commonwealth’s cultural sector. Responses to the Agency’s previous COVID impact surveys for cultural organizations (conducted in March, April, June, and October, 2020) and individual artists, teaching artists, and scientists/humanists (completed in March, April, and October, 2020, and January 2021) have been added to this survey.

The data reported today represents a cumulative total for every respondent of every survey since March 2020: 981 nonprofit and municipal organizations and 2,951 individual artists, teaching artists, and scientists/humanists.

Financial Impacts of the Pandemic on Cultural Organizations

In total, 981 nonprofit and municipal cultural organizations have completed at least one of the Agency’s COVID impact surveys since March 2020. These organizations, located in every region of the Commonwealth, have been financially devastated by the pandemic and report a total loss of $588,344,079 in revenue due to COVID-19 related cancellations, closures, and related policies since March 2020.

Region # of Organizations Reporting Total Lost Revenue
Greater Boston 314  $423,496,199
Central 97  $28,272,317
MetroWest 69  $10,042,000
Northeast 120  $25,921,761
Southeast 189  $51,628,955
Western 192  $48,972,847
Total 981  $588,334,079

On average, Massachusetts cultural organizations are dealing with the loss of $599,728 each. Difficult decisions have been made to contend with this new reality: 65% of the organizations with employees have made the decision to, or plan to lay off, furlough, or reduce the hours and/or wages of their employees. Across Massachusetts, 30,009 individual cultural sector employees have seen their jobs impacted by COVID-19 in these ways.

Region # of Organizations Reporting Total Jobs Impacted
Greater Boston 314 13,348
Central 97 1,877
MetroWest 69 2,088
Northeast 120 2,963
Southeast 189 4,729
Western 192 5,019
Total 981 30,009

Financial Impacts of the Pandemic on Artists, Teaching Artists, and Scientists/Humanists

Massachusetts’ creative professionals are also facing dramatic financial loss from the pandemic.  A total of 2,951 artists, teaching artists, and scientists/humanists who live and work in every region of the state responded to Mass Cultural Council’s four COVID impact surveys.

These individual practitioners report more than $30.4M in lost personal income ($30,403,616) and 67,986 cancelled gigs/jobs since March 2020.

Total Lost Income Reported by 2,951 Creative Individuals (in millions)

On average, an individual artist, teaching artist, or scientist/humanist in Massachusetts has lost $10,303 in personal income and 23 cancelled jobs/gigs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Region # of Individuals Reporting Total Lost Income Total Lost Gigs/Jobs
Greater Boston 1,134 $12,709,292 24,177
Central 252 $2,307,415 6,862
MetroWest 163 $1,620,553 3,845
Northeast 326 $3,473,184 6,881
Southeast 518 $5,391,489 14,593
Western 558 $4,901,683 11,628
Total 2,951 $30,403,616 67,986

Making the Case for Robust Public Investment in the Cultural Sector

“Mass Cultural Council is committed to ongoing data collection efforts to capture the impacts of the pandemic on cultural organizations and individual artists across Massachusetts,” said Bobbitt. “Significant public investment in the cultural sector is urgently needed to not only stabilize, but also move into recovery.”

Most of the state’s investment in arts and culture is made through the Mass Cultural Council in the annual state budget. On Tuesday, March 9 the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways & Means will convene a public hearing on the topics of Economic Development, Housing and Labor as funded by Governor Baker’s FY22 Budget, H1. Mass Cultural Council will testify at this hearing and stress that the Governor’s FY22 recommendation, which reduces the Agency’s appropriation by 10.4%, is untenable in this moment of crisis.

“Decreasing Mass Cultural Council’s annual state appropriation, as suggested by H1, will necessitate reduced grant making and core service delivery in the coming fiscal year,” noted Bobbitt. “The Agency’s programs and services are a major stabilizing force for the cultural sector. Cultural nonprofits, individual artists, communities, and the overall state economy will suffer further economic distress if these state services are diminished.”

Public investment in the arts, humanities, and sciences through Mass Cultural Council delivers significant returns to the Commonwealth. Whether in Greater Boston, Cape Cod, the Berkshires, or in between, nonprofit cultural organizations drive local economies in every region of the state. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural nonprofit organizations supported by Mass Cultural Council:

  • Generated $2.3 billion in annual economic activity across the Commonwealth.
  • Supported more than 71,000 full time equivalent jobs
  • Produced more than $128 million in new revenues for Massachusetts, and
  • Every dollar awarded was leveraged to raise an additional $157 in private funds.

Rebuilding the Commonwealth’s Cultural Future

While the Mass Cultural Council’s annual programming and services will invest in and help stabilize the cultural sector over the coming months, new legislation filed for consideration in the 2021-2022 legislative session by State Senator Ed Kennedy (D- Lowell), chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development, provides a path for the cultural sector’s pandemic recovery.

SD 2105, An Act to rebuild the Commonwealth’s cultural future, establishes the Massachusetts Cultural Economy COVID-19 Recovery Fund, to be administered by Mass Cultural Council, seeded with at least $200 million in future federal COVID financial assistance monies received by the Commonwealth.

The Agency would use the Fund to make COVID relief and stabilization grants to cultural organizations, both nonprofit and for profit, as well as individual creative workers. In designing relief programs funded through this initiative, Mass Cultural Council would consider and prioritize many factors including racial diversity and equity, geographic diversity, and programmatic diversity within the cultural sector, as well as economic need and recipients’ economic impact in terms of job creation and tourism spending prior to March 2020.

“Mass Cultural Council enthusiastically endorses SD 2105,” said Bobbitt. “We believe this type of investment will catalyze long-term recovery efforts desperately necessary throughout the cultural sector.

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