Greater Cleveland’s storied arts and culture sector needs support like never before: Jill Paulsen, Megan Van Voorhis and Fred Bidwell

Jul. 06, 2020

CLEVELAND — Northeast Ohio has long been proud of its arts and culture sector, which features nationally ranked programs and cutting-edge collaborations. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on public health and our economy. As we work together to provide relief and support our communities, we must also work together to protect one of our greatest regional assets: our arts and culture sector. 

Arts and culture unemployment levels have risen to 62% nationwide, according to surveys conducted by Americans for the Arts. The surveys show that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations faced losses of $8.4 billion as of June 29. They have also lost 325 million admissions from canceled events, resulting in a $10.3 billion loss in spending by audiences. The total economic impact is $3.1 billion in lost government revenue, and 533,000 jobs no longer supported.

Jill Paulsen is executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.


Venue closures have forced arts and culture organizations to experience revenue and staff losses at levels unseen since the Great Recession.

Federal relief packages have failed to adequately address these losses. The arts and culture sector received only 1.4% of the total amount allocated through the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, and participating in PPP has been difficult for businesses that cannot reopen, like theaters and music venues. Economic Injury Disaster Loans, supposedly available for up to $2 million, have come in significantly lower for some organizations. Federal allocations to the National Endowment for the Arts pale in comparison to the devastation wrought by COVID-19 on the sector.

Megan Van Voorhis is president and CEO of Arts Cleveland.

Our arts and culture sector includes museums, community-based arts education providers, theaters, nature and science-centered institutions, musical groups, film and music venues, art galleries, independent artists and more. Collectively, this group accounts for 62,499 jobs, $3.3 billion in labor income, and $9.1 billion in overall economic impact in our five-county region.

That economic impact is mirrored by cultural and social impact: Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the independent public agency that distributes tax dollars through grants to local nonprofits, reported more than 7.4 million experiences — events, workshops, performances, and other ways that the public interacted with the arts and culture sector — across Cuyahoga County in 2019. More than half were free to the public.

Support for the arts and culture sector is necessary to propel our region through this unparalleled time. One step is to donate directly to the arts organizations we enjoy, and to financially support artists we love. At the federal level, Congress should pass the RESTART ACT introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Todd Young of Indiana to provide longer-term support for small- and mid-sized businesses. State-level leadership can expand the local government toolbox for supporting arts and culture, with tools like linked deposit programs for the creative industries, expanded local option taxing authority, and expanded incentives for community entertainment districts.

Fred Bidwell is chair of the Arts & Culture Action Committee.

Local action is needed urgently: Public funding for arts and culture has been one of the great success stories of our region, but revenue from the cigarette tax on which that public funding relies has significantly declined since it was passed by the voters. Today, revenue gathered from the tax is approximately 35% less than when the tax was initially passed. A regional solution for public funding was needed before COVID-19, and now it’s needed more than ever.

All of us have a stake in working toward economic recovery. Just as we have rallied to support the hospitality sector, a large-scale response is needed to support the arts and culture sector. Leaders in arts and culture are marshaling resources every day to serve our community; our vocal support for those efforts is needed. Let’s make sure we are doing everything possible to support and sustain the arts and culture sector in Northeast Ohio.

Jill Paulsen is executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. Megan Van Voorhis is president and CEO of Arts Cleveland. Fred Bidwell is chair of the Arts & Culture Action Committee.

Click here to view this opinion article, which was originally published on July 5, 2020 on Cleve​land​.com.

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Members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra perform at the celebration concert at Severance Hall Jan. 12, 2020. Northeast Ohio's arts and culture community is under dangerous financial stress because of the coronavirus epidemic. In a guest column today, Jill Paulsen, Megan Van Voorhis and Fred Bidwell suggest needed ways forward. (Gus Chan, The Plain Dealer)