Will Dallas’ arts and culture scene survive the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic? That is a real and serious question. Today, the latest survey conducted by TACA, the Dallas Arts District, and Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition was released, showing that North Texas arts organizations have suffered more than $67 million in financial losses since the onset of the pandemic. More than 1,200 jobs have also been lost.
This financial blow likely strikes deeper into the local economy than these big numbers even suggest. Spending in the arts sector has a multiplier effect that boosts the broader economy. A study conducted during brighter times showed that Dallas’ arts and cultural organizations generate $1.47 billion in economic activity.
But for many local arts organizations, the question right now is simply “how do we survive?”
“All of these organizations are just struggling to hold on,” said Terry D. Loftis, president and executive director of the arts funding organization TACA. “The philanthropic community is certainly working to step up and help, but these losses are staggering. And given the rate they are growing, we’ve got a huge challenge to overcome.”
TACA is doing its part. The organization has distributed $592,500 in emergency COVID relief grants to 70 groups. There are other organizations also raising money for artists, including the Dallas Artists Relief Fund. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. According to the 91 groups surveyed, since the onset of the pandemic, there has been more than 2.1 million in lost or deferred attendance and an average loss of 25 percent of arts organizations’ budgets. There has also been an increase in layoffs and furloughs as funds from the federal Payroll Projection Program loans have run out. Fifty of the 91 groups surveyed say that they were forced to cut staff after the PPP loans expired.
It’s brutal news, and brutally sad. It is also a reminder that the pandemic’s impact will be felt in North Texas for years into the future. It is difficult enough for arts organizations to function in this city during good times. Building back from such deep losses will not come easy or quickly. And for organizations who rely on discretionary philanthropic giving for their survival (which is to say, all of them), any lingering economic downtown will likely deal a second blow to their budgets as donors tighten their giving. In light of the economic boost arts groups provide the local economy, the situation will likely sink into a vicious cycle of cultural disinvestment.
It didn’t have to be this way, of course. TACA’s generosity demonstrates how philanthropies and state and federal governments could have thrown vital arts organizations a lifeline. The PPP loans could have been expanded. Payrolls could have been backed by federal bailouts that could have helped arts organizations–as well as other affected businesses–survive the relatively short-term impact of the pandemic. But that’s not the route the United States took. Instead, the arts and entertainment economy has largely been cut adrift. #sad.
Here’s the full release.