Any business that requires public gatherings to stay afloat faces tough times as the COVID-19 pandemic surges and re-surges, and none more so than local arts groups. Even before the pandemic, many arts groups were operating on shoestring budgets and struggling to earn income and scare-up donations. Now things are even worse. How bad is it? A letter to Sen. John Cornyn and signed by 111 local arts organizations spells out the scope of the crisis:
Live music and performing arts venues were among the first to be closed during the COVID-19 crisis and will be some of the last to return to full operations. Here in Dallas, our stages have been closed since mid-March, with no earned revenue from ticket sales, ancillaries, fees, parking, sponsorships, and more. The loss of this income threatens permanent closure of our venues, the financial ruin of our organizations, the loss of millions of jobs, and a devastating blow to our tourism industry. While Governor Abbott’s guidelines allow some venues to reopen, doing so with significantly reduced capacity and socially distanced seating does not make economic sense. Also, most artists and shows will not resume touring until next year.
The letter was drafted to push for the passage of the “Save our Stages Act,” which would provide $12 billion in emergency relief to performing arts organizations around the country. The bipartisan bill, which was introduced last week by Cornyn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, promises independent live venue operators grants “equal to the lesser of either 45 percent of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million.”
The grants would be administrated by the Small Business Administration and would be eligible for covering most basic costs, including “rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines.”
In the letter to the Texas senator, Dallas arts groups call the bill a potential “lifeline.” One remarkable aspect of the letter is that it pulls together support for the bill from a massive cross-section of local arts organizations. In a city that often sees smaller groups batting heads with larger arts organizations in a competition for scant funding, the lobby effort shows the city’s arts community coming together for a rare common cause.
“As you can see, the range of organizations listed on the letter extends beyond the performing arts,” Joanna St. Angelo, president of DACAC, the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition, says in a press release. “The Dallas arts community signed on in a show of unity, recognizing the staggering financial challenges faced by us all.”
Certainly, federal grant money that covers nearly half of an arts organization’s operating budget will have a huge impact on helping local arts groups survive. But as with all things COVID-19-related, the challenges facing arts groups are both complicated and interrelated. At the same time that government shutdown orders prohibit arts groups from staging performances that bring in revenue, sales tax and hotel tax revenues that fund municipal arts budgets have plummeted. In the letter to Sen. Cornyn, the Dallas arts groups also push the senator to lobby for additional federal bailout funding for local governments.