Supporting culture, arts is essential during pandemic (Editorial)

Emilee Geist

At the end of July, Massachusetts state senators held a series of listening sessions to determine the pandemic’s effects on different segments of the economy. The sessions included arts and cultural institutions, such as theaters, museums and orchestras. This sector has taken a strong financial hit and some wonder if […]

At the end of July, Massachusetts state senators held a series of listening sessions to determine the pandemic’s effects on different segments of the economy. The sessions included arts and cultural institutions, such as theaters, museums and orchestras. This sector has taken a strong financial hit and some wonder if the pandemic will have a long-term impact on the survival of their operations.

Not only are local venues in distress, but some individual singers and instrumental musicians are near desperation. Depending on where they live and how they have been paid, some performing artists cannot qualify for any benefits or assistance, despite having lost more than a year of income.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra has canceled the remainder of its 2019-2020 season and it is still uncertain when large venues like Symphony Hall will be able to open. To assist furloughed musicians, the SSO has launched a musicians’ relief fund. Executive Director Susan Beaudry said, “We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated, intelligent, experienced staff. They’ve got a great attitude – very positive. We meet weekly via Zoom – nobody’s in the office unless they need to be.”

As WBUR reports, communities and entire regions that depend on seasonal dollars from music, art and theater are especially hard hit. Over the years, The Berkshires has been redefined as a regional cultural destination with many arts venues contributing strongly to the local economy. Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Williamstown Theater Festival, and museums such as the Clark Art Institute, the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) have transformed the region into a cultural mecca.

According to reports, the cultural sector has received $100.2 million from federal aid and from the Massachusetts Cultural Council but lost $425 million in revenue and faces more that $117 million in costs for implementing reopening strategies.

In 2018, the arts, entertainment and recreation sector employed around 63,000 people with a total annual revenue of $2.5 billion in compensation.

While a second round of federal aid remains unresolved, and the state undergoes its own budget challenges, the future of the arts and culture is in serious jeopardy.

While lawmakers address the immediate needs of vulnerable communities, then turn focus on economic challenges, we are hopeful that culture and arts institutions are not forgotten. State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, has a pending bill that would establish a statewide public arts commission with the goal of allocating a percentage of state building costs to public art. The Town of Amherst just passed a similar bylaw.

Museums, theaters, city orchestras and other arts venues define who we are as a culture. And as we eventually get past the pandemic these institutions must remain strong as they are essential to contributing to our health, healing and state of mind.

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©2020 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.

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