The pandemic-fueled shutdown of the cultural economy reversed up to two decades of growth in some segments of the metro Denver arts sector, according to a devastating new report released Thursday by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.
The prolonged closure of theaters, concert halls, galleries and more starting in March 2020 had a sudden and severe impact on arts organizations of all sizes, according to the 30-year-old annual study, which this year combines data from 2019 and ’20.
And yet the catastrophic numbers also make abundantly clear the importance of a healthy arts economy in normal times, said CBCA Executive Director Christin Crampton Day.
“This report really underscores the impact of our arts and nonprofit scientific organizations in a thriving economy,” said Day. “The arts are really the backbone of a vibrant, resilient and inclusive society.”
Arts and cultural activity reached a peak in 2019, breaking records for economic activity ($2.3 billion) and impact ($860 million). Economic activity is defined in the study as “direct and indirect spending from operations, audiences and capital projects,” while impact is defined as new money infused into the region.
“In 2019, as an industry, we would have been the largest private sector employer in the metro area,” Crampton Day said.
Then came the pandemic.
According to the new CBCA report, arts economic activity fell to $1.5 billion in 2020, a decline of 34%, while economic impact dropped 49%, to $435 million. The total number of arts jobs fell 28%. Attendance declined 49%, bottoming out to a 20-year low of 8 million. And with schools closed or locked to visitors, educational outreach fell 46 percent to 2 million students served.
Data was self-reported by nearly 300 arts, culture and scientific organizations that receive more than $50 million a year through the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, a voter-approved, penny-per-$10 sales tax.
And how is any of this good news?
For one, overall giving reached an all-time high in 2020, climbing from $213 million in 2019 to $225 million last year, a gain of 5.5 percent. Individual giving rose 14 percent, while corporate giving, which is largely driven by performance-driven visibility opportunities, plummeted. Thanks mostly to the CARES Act, federal grants increased by a record-breaking 420%.
Also, despite some dire forecasts, the SCFD is not aware of any of its qualifying nonprofits groups having folded during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic started, we were concerned that we were going to lose some beloved arts and cultural organizations,” Crampton Day said. “Thankfully, that has not happened, and that is due in large part to the fact that the SCFD has helped to sustain some of these organizations.”
The CBCA study found that funding through the SCFD declined only 1% between 2019 and 2020. All of which, she added, “illustrates how a community responds to drastic and disruptive circumstances.”
Despite the overall bleakness of the report, the CBCA threw a party to announce the results at a sold-out Happy Hour attended by more than 300 at ReelWorks Denver on Thursday. Why?
“Because we are still here,” Crampton Day said. “Even though some of the data is disheartening, we wanted to bring the community back together after a year and a half apart and celebrate the successes that we have had. Because do we have hope for the future.”
Knowing how long it will take to build back the arts economy to 2019 levels would require a crystal ball, Crampton Day said, but she noted it took nearly a decade to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-09.
“That really depends on how the community steps up,” she said. “A lot of it is making sure that everybody is collaboratively playing their part to get us back to where we need to be – not just individual giving, and the federal government, the state government and municipalities, but the corporate community as well.
“Because we are not through this challenging time by any means.”