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Artists Clobbered By COVID-19, With 2.7 Million Creative Job Losses In The United States

Natasha Gural

Major museums and mega galleries fired employees and slashed salaries even as they nabbed tens of millions of dollars in PPP funding when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the global art world. The longer term impact of massive layoffs and revenue bleeds is yet to be felt, with the squeeze on arts and culture depleting our overall quality of life.

The fine and performing arts industries are bearing the brunt, with estimated losses of nearly 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales, according to “Lost art: Measuring COVID-19’s devastating impact on America’s creative economy,” a report released today by the Brookings Institution, an American research group founded in 1916 on Think Tank Row in Washington, D.C. Co-authors Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and School of Cities, and Michael Seman, assistant professor of arts management at Colorado State University’s LEAP Institute for the Arts, weighed the impact of the global crisis on the creative economy, including people working in film, advertising, along with musicians, artists, performers, and designers.

Examining the period between April 1 through July 31, Florida and Seman estimate some 2.7 million creative Americans were fired and more than $150 billion in sales of goods and services for creative industries nationwide evaporated, representing almost a third of all jobs in those industries and 9 percent of annual sales.

“Although these results are at best sobering, the COVID-19 crisis offers an opportunity to look at how the creative industries operate in the United States and the existing policy directed towards them,’ said Seman. ‘A large number of the most creative, skilled, and savvy people in the country are out of jobs simultaneously. How can we harness that resource and develop collaborative projects and programs for them that might foster interdisciplinary work, enhance skills, and result in innovation in process and product? Think along the lines of what Tokyo’s teamLab and France’s Théoriz Studio are exploring and creating. Perhaps this is the time to incubate a ‘Creative Economy 2.0’ across the United States that is inclusive, interdisciplinary, and inter-sectoral.”

The fine and performing arts industries shed about half of all jobs and more than a quarter of all sales nationwide, based on a creative-industry analysis.

An analysis of creative occupations pegs job losses at more than 2.3 million jobs, comprising some $74 billion in average monthly earnings. That represents 30 percent of all creative occupations and 15 percent of total average monthly wages in the visual arts, music, theater, and dance.

“You cannot add the losses in the creative industries and occupations together as there is significant overlap,” said Seman. For example, “many who work in creative occupations do so within the creative industries. For this study, the numbers need to remain separate.”

The South is expected to be hardest hit in both in terms of the creative industries and creative occupations, followed by the West and the Northeast, respectively. The West and the Northeast will lose the most sales revenues for the creative industries, Florida and Seman say.

More than three-quarters, or 80 percent, of total estimated losses in sales and two-thirds (68 percent) of all estimated job losses in creative industries across the United States will impact the 53 metropolitan areas with populations over 1 million people. New York and Los Angeles will be damaged most by absolute losses, while smaller metro areas such as Las Vegas, Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans, Orlando, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., Tucson, Ariz., and Austin, Texas will be battered by larger losses in percentage terms.

Arts, culture, and creativity are among the three key sectors (along with science and technology as well as business and management) that drive regional economies, Florida and Seman say.

“Small, stop-gap measures will not undo the damage; a substantial and sustained national creative-economy recovery strategy is required,” Florida and Seman wrote. “This strategy must be bottom-up, but supported across the board and led by local public-private partnerships between municipal governments, arts and cultural organizations, economic development and community groups, philanthropy, and the private sector, with support from federal and state levels of government, national philanthropy, and large corporations.”

The fine and performing art worlds have transformed dramatically, adapting to digital exhibitions and performances. While the biggest museums and galleries have the infrastructure and resources to quickly and nimbly reimagine business models even after laying off key employees, smaller organizations will require major financial and technical support to rebound.

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