Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin arts and culture groups may struggle to survive pandemic, policy report concludes
The arts and culture sector in Wisconsin is facing an "existential threat" from the coronavirus pandemic, in part because state aid supporting those activities was already low, according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report.
Closing of theaters, museums and other entities has inflicted economic damage in Wisconsin, states the report, which was prepared by senior researcher Joe Peterangelo.
The state estimates that 33.9% of people employed in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector filed initial claims for unemployment between March 15 and July 5, the third-highest sector after accommodation/food service (39.1%) and manufacturing (37.1%). According to the WPF report, 96,651 people were employed full or part time in arts and cultural production in Wisconsin in 2017, accounting for 3.2% of total employment in the state.
The report analyzed survey data that the United Performing Arts Fund collected from 13 member groups, including the Milwaukee Symphony, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Milwaukee Ballet. Twelve of the groups laid off, furloughed or reduced salaries of some or all employees and artists, affecting 554 workers in 2019-'20.
Based on the responses, the number of employees affected is expected to rise to at least 1,033 during the 2020-'21 season.
Most UPAF groups also provide educational programs for youth. Based on survey responses, they expect that 83,940 students will miss out on programming in 2020-'21 and that at least 2,834 classes will be canceled.
Family-oriented First Stage has already decided it will not perform for live audiences in in 2020-'21, switching to an all-streaming season.
UPAF, which raises operating funds for local performing arts groups, extended this year's campaign through Aug. 31. Dollars received from UPAF have been the only consistent source of contributed revenue some groups have received in the last five months, UPAF said.
Losses would have been much higher if not for federal Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling about $6.3 million. But they've spent most of those funds by now, the report notes. Nine groups responding to the UPAF survey project combined net losses of $2.9 million in the 2020-'21 season.
Considering worst-case scenarios, six UPAF groups do not have enough liquid assets "to sustain normal operating expenditures past 180 days," the report states. Groups with a heavier reliance on earned income such as ticket sales and concessions "may struggle to survive COVID-19," the report states.
"It is clear that the long-term financial health of some UPAF organizations is precarious," the report concludes.
The distress felt by Wisconsin arts and culture groups is compounded by the comparatively low level of state support they receive. Per-capita state support for arts and culture in Wisconsin in 2020 is 13 cents, ranking it last among all U.S. states. In contrast, the per-capita rate is $1.02 in Michigan, $1.04 in Illinois, $1.48 in Ohio, and $7.37 in Minnesota (which has a unique Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund).
Echoing a point made regularly by Milwaukee Repertory Theater executive director Chad Bauman, the report points out that "arts and cultural activities may be among the last to normalize," due to a combination of social-distancing guidelines and restrictions, public discomfort with large gatherings and reduced discretionary spending by households affected by the pandemic.
The report notes that some neighboring states have made efforts to provide emergency support, such as the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund and Iowa's Arts & Culture Emergency Relief Fund.
"Such consideration may now be merited by state policymakers in Wisconsin," the report concludes.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent policy research organization.
Original article can be viewed HERE.