Arts + Policy

Arts + Policy


Feb 18, 2020

Pandemic devastating to arts and culture sector

Will take years to recover, lawmakers are told

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE ARTS AND culture sector, a major piece of the Massachusetts economy, will need hundreds of millions of dollars and multiple years to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, according to testimony delivered to state senators on Wednesday.

Senators have been holding a series of listening sessions to gauge the pandemic’s effects on different segments on the economy and check in on the gradual reopening of businesses.

During Wednesday’s session, focused on arts, culture, tourism and small business, Troy Siebels of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts said that the performing arts have been “decimated” by the pandemic and many businesses operating in the field will not survive.

His own 2,300-seat theater in Worcester has suffered about a $5 million revenue loss and can’t feasibly reopen with social distancing in place, Siebels said.

“It’s pretty sobering,” he told Sens. Adam Hinds, Ed Kennedy and Diana DiZoglio. “I’m usually the optimistic guy, but I think many of us will not survive this, and that’s a shame because we are economic engines and vitality engines for our communities.”

According to the advocacy group MASSCreative, audiences for nonprofit arts and cultural events generate $877 million in spending at restaurants and stores. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector employed an average of more than 63,000 people in 2018, with an annual total of $2.5 billion in compensation.

“Without immediate action, organizations will shutter and the artists who are at the heart of our sector will leave Massachusetts,” MASSCreative executive director Emily Ruddock said. “Our sector’s strength is our diversity and volume of activity. COVID-19 and the economic crisis threaten that diversity and our ability to play our role as a proven economic driver and community connector.”

Ruddock urged lawmakers to prioritize arts and culture as they grapple with funding decisions made more difficult by revenue shortfalls, uncertain federal aid prospects, and needs across all facets of the economy.

She asked them to ensure artists and other creative professionals are eligible for workforce development programs, to continue including gig economy workers in the unemployment benefits program, and to pass a Hinds bill (S 2022) she said would put artists back to work by creating a fund for public art to be included in new state building projects.

David Slatery, the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s acting director, said that in addition to his organization’s efforts to support artists and organizations, it is “clear that a more robust public investment will also be necessary.”

Bethann Steiner, the council’s public affairs director, tallied the total cost of recovery for Bay State cultural nonprofits at $441.8 million. The sector has received $100.2 million in aid from the federal government and the cultural council, she said, but lost $425 million in revenue and faces $117 million in costs for implementing reopening and recovery strategies.

“We know it’s staggering. We know it’s dire,” Steiner said, urging lawmakers to consider the “negative and long-lasting” economic impacts of not investing in arts and culture.

Before the arrival of COVID-19 in March, the cultural sector supported 71,000 jobs statewide, with an economic impact of $2.3 billion, Steiner said. The council, based on a June survey in which 68 percent of responding organizations said they expect layoffs, furloughs and reductions in pay and hours, said 17,020 cultural sector jobs will be affected COVID-19.

Cultural nonprofits estimate it will take an average of two years, and in some cases up to five, to bring their programming and finances back to pre-pandemic levels, Steiner said.

When Massachusetts this month entered Phase 3 of the Baker administration’s economic restart strategy, museums, cultural and historical sites, and outdoor performance venues that have been closed since March were cleared to reopen with new capacity limits and other restrictions in place.

MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, reopened on July 11. Museum director Joseph Thompson said the museum had to raise a lot of money to make it through the closure, and took in about $1.6 million in private contributions. He said it also received about $900,000 through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and he is “quite nervous” about how it will get through the next six months without something like the PPP money.

Thompson described the museum as a driver of tourism for the area — as it has expanded, he said, the number of hotel rooms in North Adams has grown from 16 to 246. He said that within hours of the museum announcing its closure in March, “the three leading hotels in North Adams and Williamstown announced they’d shut their doors.”

With ticket time slots and capacity limits, MASS MoCA is now receiving visitors at about half its normal level, Thompson said. The guests are “rigorously” masked and practicing social distancing, he said.

“Museums are places where people are used to being told to stand back and don’t touch,” Thompson said.

Italian-American pride means goodbye, Columbus

Italian-American pride means goodbye, Columbus

Let's honor ancestors worthy of recognition

I’VE BEEN THINKING a lot about Christopher Columbus lately. That wasn’t always the case. Growing up an Italian-American kid, in an Italian-American town in New Jersey, we had summer feasts celebrating our Italian pride—but Columbus never entered my mind much, beyond the day off from school.

When I had my own children and began raising them a block from the Columbus statue on Boston’s waterfront, the subject came up more frequently—questions about the seam on its neck left by multiple reattachments; or why we’d name a park for someone like Columbus, given what they’d learned about him.

Recently though, our headless neighbor has become unavoidable. Mayor Marty Walsh tucked the statue in a warehouse after its latest decapitation, awaiting a discussion on its fate with the North End community. In the meantime, I’ve learned a few things in my conversations with neighbors, colleagues, friends and family members. Two observations seem especially telling.

First, even among Italian-Americans, many people don’t associate Columbus with being Italian. That’s more likely the case the younger the person that you ask, or the further they live from the Northeastern US. Second, every Italian-American I spoke with, no matter their views on Columbus, included one common element when discussing their heritage: their Nonni. Our grandmothers seem central to what being Italian means to many of us. Same goes for me.

When Italian-Americans celebrate Columbus today, we’re doing it to pay respect to the fortitude and sacrifice of our grandmothers and other ancestors who laid the groundwork for the success we enjoy here today. We’re rightfully proud of them. So why allow them to be overshadowed by a symbol with such a disgraceful reputation? Columbus isn’t the hero they deserve.

It doesn’t align with the stories we heard growing up, but there’s little doubt about the true nature of Columbus in the year 2020. Kidnapping, enslavement, rape, genocide. His atrocities are common knowledge. Our kids learn them at school. With these horrors in their minds, will it make our children proud of their Italian heritage when we invoke Columbus to celebrate it, or when we take them to play in their neighborhood park?

My children, my Italian-American nieces and nephews, other children I’ve spoken with in the neighborhood all find this choice (and yes, it is a choice we’re making) unfathomable. In their minds, association with Columbus doesn’t honor our Italian heritage, it slanders it. They don’t see removing the statue as a slight to us, our neighborhood, or our Italian heritage; they see it as a slight to Columbus—one that’s clearly deserved.

They’re not alone. Like Confederate generals, Columbus statues are being removed across America—last week he was even served an eviction notice by the mayor of Columbus, Ohio. While a small number of pro-Columbus protestors with assault rifles and baseball bats recently gathered in Philadelphia to defend their statue of Columbus, dwindling numbers of elected officials or organizations nationwide have been willing to publicly support keeping statues of Columbus.

It’s the same in Boston. When North End state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz issued a statement on Twitter that was non-committal about the fate of Columbus, it was met with intense backlash and calls for the statue’s removal. He hasn’t issued a statement about it since. When a Grafton-based Italian-American organization scheduled a rally at our park, it was quickly cancelled following the mayor’s intercession and lack of interest from the local Italian-American community. (Since then, even they’ve left the door open to moving the statue to private property.)

Most Italian-Americans I spoke with were more direct – it’s time for us to move past Columbus. From leaders of neighborhood organizations to my own fiercely-Italian mother, the balance seems to have tipped — people are no longer asking whether to replace Columbus, but with whom? There’s a long list of Italians and Italian-Americans many would rather see garner the public’s attention and celebration. Da Vinci, LaGuardia, Galileo—a few even mentioned Sophia Loren.

While Sophia Loren is certainly statuesque, we already have two potent symbols of the Italian-American experience linked to the North End: Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Executed in 1927 after a controversial trial in a biased criminal justice system, amidst a wave of anti-Italian sentiment, their story resonates now more than ever.

A century ago our Italian-American ancestors were targets of violence and white supremacy. While Sacco and Vanzetti were afforded some privileges of whiteness, like all our immigrant ancestors, they were still routinely targets of bias and discrimination because of their dark complexions, their Catholic faith, and widespread nativist bigotry about them stealing American jobs. Sound familiar?

Italian-Americans adopted Columbus as a symbol of their pride and as a way to legitimate themselves to white, mainstream America. That was their choice 100 years ago. Columbus presents us with a different choice today. We can either allow ourselves to be continually goaded into fighting on the wrong side of an already-lost culture war, or we can choose to find better ways to honor our heritage.

Twenty-five years ago, San Francisco’s Italian community renamed its annual Columbus Day parade the Italian Heritage Parade. It’s now in its 152nd consecutive year. They’ve proved it possible to celebrate Italian heritage without invoking slavery, rape, and genocide. Let’s give it a shot here too.

The summer of 2020 seems an especially good time to decouple our heritage from the image of Columbus—and by commemorating Sacco and Vanzetti, we’d be giving Italian-Americans a touchpoint to reflect on how bias and discrimination harmed our ancestors, and continue to cause harm today.

When we see stereotyping and dehumanization of people of color in the US, we’ll remember that Italians were once stereotyped and dehumanized. When we see our government’s discriminatory actions against immigrants, we’ll remember that Italians were targeted by the bigotry of the Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924. When we see people in the streets protesting our criminal justice system’s unjust use against black Americans, we’ll remember how it was used against Italian-Americans in the past, and that we took to the streets then too.

Sacco and Vanzetti Day has been a holiday in Massachusetts since 1977, celebrated on August 23rd—the height of North End feast season. The park where the Columbus statue stood is blocks from where Italian-Americans organized the pair’s defense committee and marched in their funeral. There’s even a mold for a statue, by the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, waiting in the Boston Public Library’s archives.

That’s my suggestion—but whatever we decide, let’s celebrate our heritage in a way that will make our ancestors and our children proud.

Lisa Green is a North End mother, political activist, and a co-founder of the Boston Coalition for Education Equity, which is working to restore Boston’s right to elect its School Committee. 
Art for everyone's sake

Art for everyone’s sake

Without financial relief, the arts will become inaccessible to all but a few

DYSTOPIAN STORYTELLING IMAGINES time and place without light, color, and life—elements that art, music and performance provide. We’ve had a taste of it during these many weeks at home, and it’s changing the world around us. If we’re not careful, these changes could be with us long after the coronavirus is gone.

The arts are a public good—not merely a consumer product—because everyone benefits from the arts, not just those who choose to attend or engage in the arts. We all benefit when neighborhoods are more livable, when students do better in school, when our economy is more productive, and when diverse populations come together.

Despite its small size, Massachusetts is home to world-class cultural institutions and hundreds of community-based arts and cultural nonprofits that entertain and educate all residents of the Commonwealth. Our ecosystem reaches people who live in our cities, suburbs, and rural locales. We reach people at all income levels and of all races, ethnicities, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations. Before the pandemic, this incredibly diverse and innovative industry accounted for $25.8 billion, or 4.8 percent, of the Massachusetts economy and 140,593 jobs.

As the state reopens, many arts, cultural, and creative organizations will need to wait until phases three or four before they can return to revenue-generating activities. We are still learning about the coronavirus, but the science is clear that choral organizations like the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus may be among the last to open.

In late March, one of the first stories that helped people understand the ease with which the coronavirus could transmit from one person to another was that of the Skagit Valley Chorale. On March 10, with no reported cases of COVID-19 in Skagit County, Washington, the group gathered for a rehearsal. Within days, chorus members were experiencing fevers. Three weeks later, 53 of the 61 people who sang that evening had become ill with COVID-19 and two of them had died. This month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a case study of the event, concluding that transmission of the coronavirus had been “augmented by the act of singing.”

The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus has notched a lot of firsts in its history—touring the Middle East as an openly gay chorus among the most notable—but being the first choral group to take the stage amid a global pandemic will not be among them. The chorus—and many other organizations like us—will not be returning to the stage before there are better treatment options for COVID-19 or a vaccine.

How will arts organizations survive? Individual donors have been generous, but with the unemployment rate at 15 percent in the state, people are pinched. Corporate interests, an important funder of the arts, have retrenched. Just a few months ago, the arts ecosystem in Massachusetts was a flywheel that generated energy, excitement, and revenue. Without intervention, it will become a barbell with large cultural institutions at one end and extremely low budget pop-ups at the other. Without public support, we risk a devastating culling of the mid-sized dance companies, theaters, musical groups, and galleries.

These are organizations that bring people together and generate economic activity in neighborhoods and business districts throughout the state. Many of these mid-size organizations, such as Boston Center for the Arts in Boston’s South End, The Dance Complex in Cambridge, Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Community Music School of Springfield, or IS183 Art School of the Berkshires also function as local cultural anchors. These are spaces that numerous artists and other organizations rely up upon for rehearsing, teaching, presenting, and gathering.

After the wave of cancellations in March that cost arts nonprofits an estimated $264 million, many organizations quickly adapted to find new ways to stay connected with their audiences. We’ve seen incredibly innovative virtual and online performances. But this isn’t sustainable. As we know from the media business, giving away your content for free is not a winning long-term strategy.

We understand that local municipalities and the state will face historic budget shortfalls as a result of the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. But some federal money has already flowed to the state. More is coming. We need to prepare to get it out the door quickly to organizations that will not be able to return to revenue-generating activities until phases three or four of the state’s reopening.

Arts organizations need grants and access to small business recovery programs. The state can allocate some of its CARES Act funding for arts, cultural, and creative organizations. In its next recovery bill, Congress needs to include provisions for full reimbursement of self-insured unemployment plans and changes to the universal charitable tax deduction by removing the $300 cap and by eliminating the 60 percent limit on adjusted gross income.

Other cities and states around the country are making plans to support their arts organizations. Los Angeles is using city funds to make small grants to artists and arts nonprofits. Phoenix has allocated $2 million of its CARES Act funding for cultural groups. New York City has an arts industry specific reopening task force. Connecticut and Utah included statewide arts leaders on their COVID-19 economic task force groups.

Massachusetts needs to do the same by offering more to the arts sector than guidance about sanitation standards. Absent that, our story will become dystopian indeed.

Craig Coogan is the executive director of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. Emily Ruddock is the executive director of MASSCreative.

06/10/20

Beheading of Columbus statue prompts discussion

Walsh putting six-foot figure in storage for now

SOMEONE BEHEADED the statue of Christopher Columbus in the North End of Boston Tuesday night, prompting a discussion about what the piece of chiseled Tuscan marble symbolizes.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh condemned the act of vandalism, but said the statue and its head will be kept in storage for the time being. “Given the conversations that we’re having right now in our city and throughout the country, we’re also going to take time to assess the historic meaning of the statue,” he said.

The six-foot statue was dedicated on Columbus Day 1979 at a ceremony where former mayor Kevin White and former governor John Volpe were present. But as the turn of the century came, the statue suffered repeated desecrations – the head was decapitated for the first time in 2006, “murderer” was painted on it in 2015, and the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was written on it in red paint.

Columbus was an Italian explorer who colonized parts of the Americas on behalf of Spanish Catholic monarchs between 1492 and 1504. While searching for gold, he and his men enslaved the natives they conquered and brought about their near genocide through disease, rape, and overwork. In letters to Spanish royalty, Columbus outlined his dealings, including the trade of 10-year-old indigenous girls.

Many school committees across Massachusetts have changed the name of the Columbus holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.

As city workers began removing the statue on Wednesday, a group of people gathered around to watch.

“Oh God, that’s just awful,” said a woman wearing a Trump 2020 hat who refused to be identified.

Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, hosted a Facebook Live event in Christopher Columbus Park. He said the statue is representative of “the state violence endured by Black and Indigenous peoples for over 500 years.” He said any attempt to restore the statue will be protested.

06/10/20

Boston Parks and Recreation employees prepare the beheaded statue of Christopher Columbus for storage. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

Bruno Giardiello, originally from Naples, said “people don’t know history.” Giardiello insisted the natives Columbus is blamed for killing didn’t die until after he left the land he conquered.

“At that time everyone was a killer,” he said, “and you conquered land for opportunity.” He pointed out that the British and the Dutch had also “massacred Indians,” but that landmarks commemorating those nationalities were not being removed. He wondered if a “limit on Thanksgiving” would be next.

Giardiello’s friend, Jose Hermoza, said he didn’t think the statue beheading had anything to do with the killing of George Floyd and the debate about racism in American society.

“Whoever did this doesn’t know what happened in 1492,” he said. “Columbus wasn’t a conqueror. He was an explorer.”

Hermoza, who is originally from Peru, said that his own country was conquered, but statues and other memorials aren’t desecrated there. “It’s like me coming and cutting the head of Pizarro,” he said in reference to the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

Across the park, a black man yelled, “Holy shit, someone knocked the head off Columbus! Where was the security?” The man, who didn’t want to be identified, said he has “Apache blood,” and that “people are taking it all out on a stone.”

A younger white man answered, “they should build a stone monument to the people Columbus killed.”

House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, who represents the North End, said on Twitter that people should recognize that Columbus has a “complex history and symbolizes different things to different people.” He said the statue was placed in the park “as a celebration of Italian Heritage.”

Darien Alexander Williams, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posed for a photo in front of the statue. “I think it’s a heroic act of resistance,” he said. “Marginalized people, both black and brown, go through so many unconventional routes to address oppression that is valorized.”

Originally from North Carolina, Williams likened the situation to the South’s Confederate statues that have been torn down or removed over the past few years. He doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the beheading of Columbus happened during the George Floyd protests.

Native American and black history, he said, are intrinsically connected through persecution. Williams hopes the mayor will consider leaving the beheaded statue as is. “We shouldn’t pretend it wasn’t an important moment. Leaving as is could be a method of commemorating this resistance,” he said.

We’ve got to have art

We’ve got to have art

Our cultural organizations need us because we need them

THE IMPACT OF arts and cultural programs on our lives is not easily quantifiable. Whether we are in a museum, concert hall, or any other venue, enjoying art together is much more than a mere source of entertainment. It’s a way for us to collectively experience the human condition. The value that this brings to all of us, as human beings, cannot be overstated.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every facet of life all around the world, and that includes the arts. People across our world, country, and state have been laid off, through no fault of their own, because of the social distancing measures that are necessary to save lives and keep this pandemic in check.

In Massachusetts, the negative impacts on our arts and cultural organizations and the tourism they bring will have ripple effects throughout our economy. For this reason, I was proud to co-file recently two pieces of legislation, along with my Berkshire delegation partner John Barrett, to address the needs of cultural organizations and the food and hospitality sectors they directly support.

The first would establish a COVID-19 Nonprofit Cultural Organizations Emergency Relief fund of $75 million to fund grants for nonprofit cultural organizations that are experiencing financial hardship because of coronavirus. These grants would extend a much needed lifeline to arts and cultural nonprofit organizations across the Commonwealth. The second bill would create a similar $75 million COVID-19 Food Service and Hospitality Worker Relief Emergency Fund to provide grants to restaurant, hotel, and other workers in these industries that have been left unemployed because of the pandemic.

The Berkshires are a hub that people all over the world flock to in order to enjoy our cultural offerings. From the Norman Rockwell Museum to Shakespeare & Company to Mass MoCA to Tanglewood, our cultural organizations bring a vibrancy and joy to life that is unique to this little corner of the world.

However, the Berkshires are not alone in having an arts and cultural sector that is integral is to its character and economy. Arts organizations play an important role across the Commonwealth in shaping the identity of Massachusetts and supporting its economy. From the Berkshires to Boston to Plymouth and Provincetown, travelers from all over the globe come to Massachusetts to take part in the rich history and culture that can only be found here.

For many in Massachusetts, arts and culture are not only a way of life, but they are also a way to make a living. This is also true for the hotels, restaurants, and shops that depend on catering to tourists and visitors who come for our year round and seasonal cultural attractions.

In 2018, the leisure, hospitality, and tourism industry employed 376,000 workers, generated over $28 billion in economic output, and produced $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. An additional 232,000 jobs and $41 billion in economic output were created in other industries that benefit from these sectors. Our economy is an ecosystem with arts, culture, and tourism being significant contributors to its health and well-being.

Providing funds directly to hospitality workers will grant much needed relief to industries that have almost completely shut down for the sake of the greater public health. Though more may be needed in time, these two emergency funds would be a great start towards the relief and long-term stabilization of key sectors of our economy that have been shaken to the core.

Not only would the grants help our local cultural nonprofits cover expenses during this time that the pandemic has caused them to cease operations, this assistance would be a valuable stimulus to allow them to hit the ground running once social distancing measures have been lifted. Every measure we can take to get arts and cultural organizations up and running as quickly as possible, once it is safe, will also go far in providing economic activity for the restaurants, hotels, and shops that depend on the tourism that these organizations bring to the Commonwealth.

The final benefit cannot be measured in terms of economic output. Once the dust settles and we are allowed to once again meet in person, we will all crave the contact with one another that we have been deprived of during this time of social isolation. We will need to express. We will need to be distracted. We will need to connect. We will need to listen. We will need to be entertained. We will need to laugh. We will need to sing. We will need to cry. We will need to heal.

The arts give us all of this, and we will need them after this pandemic more than ever.

Smitty Pignatelli is a state representative from Lenox.

How do arts and culture come back?

How do arts and culture come back?

It won’t be easy, and it will be expensive

SINCE GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S first emergency order was issued and social distancing was implemented, many local news outlets have provided excellent and thorough coverage of the economic impacts of COVID-19 on cultural organizations in Massachusetts. Our own research at the Mass Cultural Council puts numbers behind the stories: more than $264 million in lost revenue and 15,000 jobs affected. And these numbers keep growing.

Even as we continue to document the damage to this critical segment of the Commonwealth’s economy, the cultural sector is tackling the next hurdle in front of it. We must design a post-COVID strategy that brings Massachusetts’ vibrant cultural landscape back to life.

In order to do this, we must answer at least two important questions:

How do we financially stabilize and secure our cultural non-profit organizations? And, how do we gradually re-open our facilities, so that people feel safe and the public health is assured, without digging the financial hole even deeper?

The answer to the first question is both simple and hard. COVID-19 robbed the cultural sector of virtually every income stream on which it depends. Earned income (ticket sales), contributed income, and endowment income all but disappeared. Our non-profits operate on slim margins in the best of times. This crisis required more than trimming the fat off lean organizations. It meant cutting into the heart and muscle of the work, laying off staff, and eliminating programming.

The quarter of a billion dollars in losses we’ve tabulated since social distancing measures were implemented in March is a fraction of the ultimate damage. It is impossible to know right now the size of the financial infusion necessary to rescue these cultural treasures and bring back the talent and intellectual capital we’ve lost.

The second question goes to the very soul of the work we do. Cultural organizations bring people together, in concert halls, theaters, and museums. These will likely be among the last places to reopen. The antidote to the coronavirus is the purpose of arts and culture. We can all imagine new rules and practices that limit attendance to plays and concerts.  Maybe we can fill only half a house and every other seat. But we won’t produce half a play, or perform with half an orchestra.  The cost of the production remains the same while ticket revenue plummets. No doubt amped-up sanitation practices and even upgrades in ventilation and air purification systems may be required. Bringing our cultural offerings back online will be expensive.

The challenge is daunting. It will require federal, state, and local investment and commitment to meet it. The cultural sector of Massachusetts is a critical part of our economy supporting thousands of jobs in our communities, both in cultural organizations and Main Street businesses. In a post-COVID Massachusetts, our cultural organizations will be the first responders in addressing the effects of the isolation and loneliness that were a necessary price to pay to defeat a deadly pandemic.

Our collective action: social distancing, wearing of masks, and other sanitation practices, will defeat the coronavirus. Our collective action and support will also be necessary to revive our creative economy, our cultural treasures, and the heart and soul of the best of Massachusetts.

Anita Walker is the executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Aquarium, zoo, and museums appeal for federal aid

Aquarium, zoo, and museums appeal for federal aid

Ask delegation to press for huge bump in funding

TOP OFFICIALS at six of the Boston area’s top cultural attractions said on Tuesday that their survival and the survival of other institutions like them depends on a huge increase in federal aid to the nonprofit sector.

In a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the leaders of the New England Aquarium, the Boston Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science, Zoo New England, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Institute of Contemporary Art outlined a very specific set of requests.

The top item on the wish list is a $6 billion appropriation for the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services, which issues federal grants to zoos, aquariums, and museums. The institute received a $50 million appropriation under the recently passed CARES Act, but the officials said the need is far greater.

“This funding should be used to provide grants for operational support, distance learning, and pandemic recovery planning and implementation,” the institutions said in their letter.

They also called on the lawmakers to remove all restrictions on charitable giving and extend the Small Business Administration’s paycheck protection program until December 2020. Under that program, employers can obtain loans that can be forgiven if they are used to pay worker salaries, rent, and mortgage interest.

“Combined, the items listed above represent the minimum required support mechanisms to ensure that Americans still have these venerable and treasured places of learning, inspiration, and connection in our communities when better days return,” the six officials said in their letter.

Officials from the Aquarium, who provided a copy of the letter, said the shuttered institution is losing about $3.5 million a month and has been forced to lay off 43 full-time and 80 part-time employees and furlough 50 full-time employees. The officials said all furloughed and laid-off employees received two weeks notice pay and will continue to receive health care benefits for three months.

The letter was signed by Vikki Spruill, the president and CEO of the Aquarium; Carole Charnow, president and CEO of the Boston Children’s Museum; John Linehan, the president and CEO of Zoo New England; Tim Ritchie, president of the Museum of Science; Matthew Teitelbaum, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts; and Jill Medvedow, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Museum of Fine Arts losses at $1.4m and growing

Museum of Fine Arts losses at $1.4m and growing

MassMOCA has laid off 122 of its 165-member staff

A MASSACHUSETTS ART MUSEUM laid off almost three-quarters of its staff. Another expects to face a budget deficit in the tens of millions of dollars. Leisure destinations that rely on warm-season surges are worried they may not begin to feel recovery until 2021.

One after another, members of the state’s arts and tourism sector shared stories Thursday of financial strain and indefinite worry amid the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down all non-essential business.

Nonprofit cultural organizations in Massachusetts have already lost more than $55 million in revenue as a result of the outbreak, the Massachusetts Cultural Council reported after surveying members.

While many are tapping reserves and making tough budgeting decisions to stay afloat, they said they will need financial support from state and federal lawmakers if they are to return to strength once the outbreak subsides.

“The numbers are staggering,” said Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, during a Thursday conference call with leaders from across the industry. “That just gives you the tip of the iceberg of what we’re facing here.”

Representatives from more than half a dozen organizations joined the call Thursday to share on-the-ground stories about the pressure that museums, cultural centers, music schools and other institutions are facing.

The financial impacts they described are severe. In North Adams, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — often referred to as MASS MoCA — has already cut 122 employees from a staff that totals about 165.

While the museum can lean on its endowment in the short term, that only amounts to about 1.5 times its annual budget and will not stretch, museum director Joe Thompson said during the call.

“It’s grim,” he said. “We’re going to bounce back, but it’s grim.”

The Museum of Fine Arts, one of the largest players in the state’s arts sector, has already lost $1.4 million in revenue after closing two weeks ago and will likely be facing a $14 million deficit by June 30, said MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum.

Because the museum has more than 500 employees, it will not qualify for several forms of small business aid made available in the sweeping $2 trillion federal relief law signed by President Donald Trump.

Teitelbaum stressed that the cultural sector as a whole is an important cog that contributes “hundreds of millions of dollars” in revenue to the state economy, driving patrons to nearby restaurants, hotels and other local businesses.

“This is a key moment where we’re trying to figure out the future together,” he said. “We need the support of government. I speak on behalf of all cultural workers, but we also want to support you. We want to help you as you think about how tourism comes back to our state, how education systems become robust again.”

Other organizations have worked to maintain some semblance of stability remotely, even amid the challenges that poses. The Northampton Community Music Center has shifted some lessons online, but technical problems can prevent ensemble groups from performing in sync.

The Dedham School of Music tried to run an online replacement version of a planned fundraiser, but found “it’s really difficult to ask people to do that right now when they don’t know when their next paycheck is coming,” said executive director Amy Fichera.

Both chairs of the Legislature’s Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee, Rep. Paul McMurtry and Sen. Edward Kennedy, said they agreed that the government will play a key role in helping the industries, particularly in the transition out of the crisis.

“One of the things we want to start looking forward to is ways to help in the short-term to get us through but then also in the long-term,” McMurtry said. “How do we rebound and how do we heal and set us on the path to recovery?”

As initial unemployment claims surged to record levels for the second straight week, Kennedy said the effects of the pandemic will linger beyond the immediate crisis requiring social distancing.

“The health crisis itself is one track, and that will go away,” he said. “But the health crisis has caused an economic crisis and that’s not going to go away so quickly.”

When the show does not go on

When the show does not go on

The arts take a huge hit from coronavirus crisis

JADE SYLVAN, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, spent two years writing and producing a musical, “Beloved King,” a queer interpretation of the biblical story of King David. Sylvan was set to debut a semi-staged production last weekend with two sold-out performances at the Oberon, which is part of the Harvard-affiliated American Reperatory Theater – the first step toward getting the show into full production.

Then coronavirus hit. Sylvan and officials at the Oberon agreed that the right decision was to cancel. “The week before the show it felt like slowly everything crumbled around me,” Sylvan said. “It’s crushing and heartbreaking.”

Sylvan is out $10,000, and has no idea if the project they dedicated two years of their life to will ever come to fruition. “We say we’re postponing it, but the future is so uncertain it’s hard to know when that will be,” Sylvan said.

As the coronavirus pandemic puts a hold of all gatherings in Massachusetts, the arts is one industry that is particularly hard hit. Virtually every public performance space is shut down, and theater classes are cancelled. Major museums are all closed. While some larger arts institutions may have a financial cushion, many smaller organizations live season to season. And artists are frequently part of the gig economy, paid for each concert they perform or each production they staff. When the work dries up, so do the paychecks.

Josh Cohen, a musician, producer and in-studio sound engineer from Medford, applied for unemployment benefits last week for only the second time in his 20-year career in music. Cohen had plenty of work lined up for the spring — a seven-week tour with one band, a six-week tour with another artist, and a music festival. Now, it’s all gone, and he’s losing between $30,000 and $50,000.

“A large chunk of my annual income is hanging in the balance,” Cohen said. “It’s a little bit unnerving.”

A sign on the door of the Harvard Art Museums saying they are closed “until further notice.” (Photo by Shira Schoenberg)

In Massachusetts, the arts is a big business. According to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, nonprofit cultural organizations put $1.5 billion annually into the state economy, and generate an additional $877 million in indirect audience spending – for example, when patrons go to dinner before a show. There are the equivalent of 71,000 full-time jobs generated by the arts.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said arts organizations run the gamut from small, volunteer-run groups to those with large staffs. “Some have a certain cushion of sustainability, but none of them have a robust fund to fall back on that will last any length of time,” she said.

And, Walker added, “If an organization has to close its doors and cancel performances, it’s not just a loss of performances, it’s a loss of real work, whether ticket-takers or people working in catering or merchandising.”

The cultural council is distributing a survey to determine the economic cost of arts-related shutdowns. Walker called the situation “heartbreaking.”

“This is their lifeblood, this is what they live for, to open their doors, invite audiences in and share the arts and transformative experiences, and people need this now more than ever,” she said.

Even many of the state’s larger organizations are struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the pandemic.

“As a theater producer for 30 plus years, what is deeply ingrained in me is the notion that the show must go on,” said David Dower, artistic director of ArtsEmerson, a Boston theater affiliated with Emerson College. “It’s every part of my fiber at this point. But that is actually the wrong response in the face of this particular threat.”

Dower said he was involved in the response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when activists made a point of touching each other to show that the virus was not contagious. Dower said it took him time to come to terms with the current crisis, that “the communal response is our togetherness needs to be expressed by not gathering.”

At the Huntington Theatre in Boston, a world premiere of the show “Our Daughters, Like Pillars” was scheduled to open March 20. After the show was cancelled, the theater considered recording it for subscribers, but didn’t want to force the actors to gather. The theater is still figuring out logistics, like which staff will continue to get paid. “There’s no playbook for this situation we’re in,” said Temple Gill, director of public affairs for the theater. “We’ve never been in this position before.”

Financially, the Huntington expected to raise $1.5 million in ticket sales over the next couple of months. Its annual fundraising gala, expected to gross $1.3 million, is scheduled for May 4, and theater officials have not yet decided whether to hold it.

For smaller artists, the economic hit is particularly tough. Edrie Edrie, a musician with the performance group Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys and president of a production company, estimates that she and her partner Walter Sickert will lose 40 percent of their annual revenue, since all their work has disappeared for the next three to five months. Shows were cancelled and other work, like scoring sound elements onto video games and commercials, has been postponed.

The couple is trying to sell Sickert’s visual arts – paintings, sculptures and prints – to earn money. “I feel like it’s going to take a year or more to recover, to get to where we were before the last 48 hours started,” Edrie said on Friday.

Faye Dupras, artistic director of a Somerville theater company that creates touring puppet shows, lost $5,000 due to cancelled shows. She also teaches in schools — now cancelled. “Basically, all my streams of revenue have been zeroed out,” Dupras said.

Dupras was gearing up to crowd-source money for a new project, but she worries that if the country enters a recession, money for the arts will dry up. “I’m feeling like that’s going to be a harder sell to get people to donate money for theater when I think people will be struggling more to keep their own finances in order for the necessities in life,” Dupras said.

The lack of clarity around how long the shutdowns will last is also difficult.

Shana Gozansky, a freelance theater director, just started rehearsals this week for a show slated to open May 15. The cast and crew already spent hours working on design, set, lighting, costumes, and casting. The actors memorized the scripts. They are starting rehearsals virtually, using videoconferencing. But they remain in limbo, not knowing if the play will happen – and if they will get paid, since payments are often made in installments.

“We’ve been working on this play in some form or another since July. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Gozansky said.

Some funds are starting to pop up to help struggling artists. The city of Boston turned an existing arts grant fund into an Artist Relief Fund, which will give grants of $500 and $1,000 to artists who lose income due to coronavirus.

Kara Elliott-Ortega, chief of arts and culture for the city, said the fund typically distributes around $35,000 during each round of grants. The Boston Center for the Arts also set up a mechanism for private donors to contribute to the fund, so this round may be larger.

Elliott-Ortega said the fund is meant to help lower-income artists who had tours, gigs, or readings cancelled. “Knowing that people were counting on income they’re not going to receive, we try to give people something to recoup that,” she said.

The Record Co., a nonprofit community music organization, established its own grant fund, which will give $200 to any musician who had a performance cancelled on a first-come, first-served basis. It created the fund Thursday and started distributing grants Friday. As of Monday morning, the fund had raised $27,500 and distributed $8,000. “If we’re going to have an emergency fund, it needs to be emergency fast,” said Matt McArthur, executive director of The Record Co.

Many artists are developing creative ways to continue to share their art.

Jean Appolon, a choreographer and dancer who has a dance company and teaches in schools and studios, said he lost all his income overnight. On Saturday, he tried for the first time to livestream a dance class on Facebook. Over 6,000 people watched.

Cambridge-based choreographer and dance instructor Jean Appolon held an online dance class via Facebook over the weekend.

“Dance has been my life since I grew up in Haiti facing violence and trauma. Now we’re facing almost the same trauma through coronavirus,” Appolon said. “I feel like this way of connecting to people just brings so much healing.”

Many artists also worry about the impact on the public. “I think in times of crisis, the arts help people feel comfortable, enjoy life, escape from the trauma of day to day, distract from seeing the news and alerts and social media post about this,” said Michael Bobbitt, artistic director at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown. “Now we won’t have that relief, which I think helps perpetuate hysteria.”

Peter DiMuro runs the Dance Complex in Cambridge and has his own dance theater company. DiMuro said he recalls past difficult crises – the AIDS crisis, the September 11 terror attacks, the 2008 recession – and he worries that people will look for short-term fixes, but forget about the arts in the long term. DiMuro said he knows that some artists and small businesses will take years to recoup the financial losses, and others will not survive at all.

“I fear the world will go back to its very capitalistic ways and say art is unnecessary, when we know … the arts are a saving grace in these times,” DiMuro said. “We need to not let them perish and have to rebuild up again.”

 

Municipal officials tout film tax credit

Municipal officials tout film tax credit

With sunset looming, they tout jobs, money, and tourism

A GROUP OF MUNICIPAL OFFICIALS on Tuesday stepped up the drumbeat of support for the state’s film tax credit, which is set to expire in three years unless the Legislature intervenes to eliminate the law’s sunset provision.

At a State House event, officials from Lawrence, Worcester, Concord, Malden, Salem, and Cape Ann interspersed tales about movie stars and sets in their local communities with testimonials to the jobs, money, and tourism that film productions bring in. Even though the law won’t sunset until the end of 2022, the officials said, the Legislature needs to act long before then.

“Yes, this legislation has two years to go, but these projects take quite a long time in the planning stage,” said Erin Williams, the cultural development officer in Worcester.

Ryan Cook, a location manager, said time is particularly sensitive for TV series that can run for years on various streaming services. He noted Castle Rock, a Hulu series that is coming back to Massachusetts for season three, wants to run for many years. The production stores all its props and sets in local warehouses when it takes a break from filming.

“As we get closer to this sunset, there’s going to be uncertainty, and productions will look elsewhere for certainty, especially with these streaming services coming in,” Cook said.

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said movies shooting in his community have brought significant spending to the area but also provided a “brand lift” for the city. He said photos of Ben Affleck and his mother having coffee in Lawrence did wonders for the city’s morale.

Erin Stevens, the communications manager in Concord, said Little Women gave a boost to the local economy and attracted a lot of tourism to the area.

Most of the officials talked up the benefits of the film tax credit and left the politics alone. The tax credit launched in 2006 with a scheduled sunset date of December 31, 2022. There have been a number of attempts to eliminate the tax credit or pare back its benefits, but all of them have failed because of the tax credit’s strong support in the House. But now tax credit supporters have to themselves get a measure passed to eliminate the sunset, and that may not be easy.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said recently that he has concerns about whether the benefits from the film credit exceed the costs.

The film tax credit offers anyone shooting films, TV shows, or commercials in Massachusetts a credit equal to 25 percent of whatever they spend. The credits can be converted into cash by either selling them back to the state at 90 percent of their face value or by selling them to a corporation or individual with a large tax liability in Massachusetts.

“The data seem to prove that it’s very expensive, that it does not create many full-time equivalent jobs. There’s a burst of activity during a particular filming and then activity ceases when the film goes away. The credits tend to benefit out-of-state residents,” Rodrigues said.

Cook did not address those issues directly, but he indicated the film industry in Massachusetts would fade away if the tax credit – which he repeatedly described as an “incentive program” – were to expire. Cook noted a number of his colleagues have purchased homes and started families recently, but he said he and his wife haven’t done so yet.

“My wife and I have been a little on the fence in purchasing a house because we want to see what happens with the incentive,” he said. “We want to make the investment in the community, but if the incentive goes away I’ll be looking for work elsewhere.”