Gathering people together in community for experiences and education is the lifeblood of the arts, and on or around March 15 the gatherings suddenly stopped. No plays in theaters, no art fairs or galleries where artists could sell their wares, no community arts classes, no singing choirs, all abruptly silenced.
It’s not just that Minnesota’s emergency orders prevented large gatherings, although that is a part of it. It is also the growing realization that we don’t know when people will be comfortable coming back to Minnesota’s 1900 theaters, galleries and museums again.
A WolfBrown survey found that only 14-20% of arts attendees are ready to go back as soon as it’s legally allowed. Park Square Theater recently polledtheir audience and nearly 42% said they won’t return until there is a vaccine.
As time passes the devastation worsens. Both large and small arts and culture organizations who had been able to hold onto some of their staff with PPP loans are now starting to lay off workers permanently. Here’s just a few examples:
An American Alliance of Museums survey found that one third of U.S. arts institutions may close this year. U.S. museums have been losing at least $33 million per day. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits found that arts organizations have suffered the “highest levels of disruption of the nonprofit sector” and that “67% expect recovery to be difficult.”
Of course, all of these laid off artists and creative workers need support to make it through this crisis just as all other laid off workers do, which is why advocates pushed to also include freelancers in the unemployment system.
Although this succeeded, some gig workers were prevented from getting relief aid because they mixed both traditional jobs and independent contract work to pay the bills and had been left with little or no financial relief. The field is pursuing legislation to fix this problem.
Minnesota is in the process of figuring its budget deficit and it’s unclear when the Legislature will deal with that, but the arts community should be braced for reduced funding for the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils system.
In the meantime, artists and arts organizations are trying to figure out how to survive until audiences return.