Arts advocates and elected officials in California called on Thursday for additional government spending to avert what one organization leader called a “pending cultural depression” brought on by the pandemic.
“There is no economic recovery in our area unless a working creative engine is driving it,” Karen Bass, a U.S. Congresswoman representing part of Los Angeles, said in a video prerecorded for a panel discussion.
“Congress must provide additional assistance to the creative economy and its million of employees,” she continued, saying that her district could not fully recover unless the arts community there led the way.
The calls for more aid were aired during a video conference hosted by Otis College of Art and Design, which released a report it commissioned on the creative economy. Two economic impact surveys Thursday by the advocacy group Californians for the Arts were also discussed.
The Otis College report said that between February 2020 and December 2020, total job loss in the “creative economy workforce” reached about 13 percent statewide and 24 percent in Los Angeles County.
During that period, the state lost 175,000 jobs in that economy, which was said to include architecture and related services, creative goods and products, entertainment and digital media, fashion and fine arts, the report said.
The surveys from Californians for the Arts were conducted between Oct. 6 and Nov. 20, 2020, and focused on nonprofit arts and cultural organizations; creative businesses relying on income from ticket sales, contract work and sales and commissions from artwork; and individual arts workers.
Among the 607 organizations surveyed, 72 percent reported dismissing paid staff members and half said they dismissed contractors. Among nearly 1,000 workers surveyed, 88 percent reported losing income or other arts-related revenue. Some were considering giving up arts work or leaving the state.
Arts workers are suffering from “fragile economic foundations” and “devastating and immediate loss of income,” said Julie Baker, the executive director of Californians for the Arts. “We are facing a California creativity crisis and what we are calling a cultural depression.”
Baker said that federal relief, especially unemployment payments to the self-employed, has been critical to the survival of arts organizations and workers and should be continued.
She added that the surveys had found racial disparities in loss of income and access to federal money: All of those who identified as Black or African-American indicated a loss of income, while an average of 12 percent of those in all other ethnic groups identified a similar loss.
And 18 percent of Black, Indigenous or people of color individuals or organizations said they were denied funding through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The report added that 5 percent of other people and organizations said they were denied.
The panel and the surveys came a day after the New York State Office of the Comptroller released a report saying that employment in New York City’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector plummeted by 66 percent from December 2019 to December 2020.
During the panel on Thursday, Ben Allen, a state senator representing a district that includes Santa Monica, West Hollywood and neighborhoods in Los Angeles, said that he was urging colleagues in the legislature to support a program “inspired by the Works Progress Administration” from the New Deal, that would employ artists to help spread messages about the coronavirus and document experiences during the pandemic.
“The arts can and must play an important role in helping to rebuild our society and get us back on track,” he said.