Mass. Reboot Episode 1: Art

The Boch Center and the Dorchester Art Project are arts organizations from very different worlds, but both were hit hard by COVID and are now struggling to find their way back to some sense of normalcy post-pandemic.

The Boch Center, with its massive Wang Theater the setting for major touring theater productions visiting Boston, shut down in March 2020, laid off most of its employees, and won’t be reopening until October. “It was the most excruciating, painful part of my career,” said Josiah Spaulding Jr., the president and CEO of the Boch Center.

The Dorchester Art Project, a Fields Corner performance and exhibition space, was designated Boston’s best intimate live music venue in 2019. But intimate was the last thing on anyone’s mind when COVID arrived. “It really just all came to a crashing halt,” said Emma Leavitt, director of communications and public art projects.

Spaulding and Leavitt are featured in Mass Reboot, a production of the MassINC Polling Group presented by The Codcast, which examines in the first of 10 episodes how the arts world has been affected by COVID and its prospects going forward. 

Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said the Massachusetts arts and cultural sector lost at least $588 million in revenue during the pandemic and saw employment drop from 71,000 to 30,000. He calls it a cultural depression. 

The Boch Center and the Dorchester Art Project both had difficulty tapping into government aid programs and have had to rely largely on private donations to survive. Leavitt said COVID showed how unstable the creative economy is and how vulnerable artists and gig workers are. “There was a lot of hopelessness and confusion,” she said. 

Both organizations are eager to reopen, but they are moving cautiously. “We weren’t pushing to open as soon as we can or take as much space as we need,” said Leavitt. “We were just really cautious about it. We’re still wearing masks inside, kind of playing it by ear.” 

Meet the Author

Libby Gormley

Research associate, MassINC Polling Group
A poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group in late May indicated only 44 percent of state residents would feel safe seeing a show in a crowded theater. The poll found older people felt less safe returning to crowded venues. 

Spaulding is hoping attitudes shift by the time the Boch Center reopens in October – about 20 months after it shut down. “It’s tough, but we’ve survived,” he said.