Two-thirds of New York City’s Arts and Recreation Jobs Have Been Lost to the Pandemic

Employment in the arts, entertainment, and recreation in New York City has experienced the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, plummeting by 66 percent in 2020.

The sector, which includes museums and performance venues like theaters and opera houses as well as sports arenas and casinos, has also shown the slowest improvement in employment, according to a new report by the state comptroller’s office (OSC). In February 2020, nearly 87,000 people were employed in these entities; by April, that number had dipped to 34,100, where it has fluctuated since December.

For museums, historical sites, and similar institutions, year-over-year employment was 13,800 in December 2019 and 8,700 in December 2020, a drop of about 37%, an OSC representative told Hyperallergic.

Museums, parks, and historical sites make up 15% of the arts, recreation, and entertainment sector’s jobs, with performing arts and spectator sports accounting for 50% (amusement, gambling, and recreation make up the remaining 35%). Though some of these businesses have started welcoming visitors as part of the state’s phased reopening plan, most establishments in the performing arts and sports subsector have not been allowed to reopen. The Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet have both announced they will not reopen until September 2021.

Since last March, 59% of arts and entertainment businesses in NYC have shut down, reports Crain’s New York. More than 60% of the city’s arts venues received loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with the number of approved loans for museums and historical sites specifically nearly equaling the number of establishments.

To help soften the blow, cultural organizations have taken steps that would be considered dramatic pre-pandemic, like dipping into endowment funds or deaccessioning artworks. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent announcement that it is considering directing funds from deaccession sales to cover collection care costs and salaries has been met with sharp criticism, including by the likes of Met Director Thomas Campbell. Others argue that the moves are justified if they protect hard-hit arts workers.

In a victory for the performing arts community, Congress passed a relief package that included $15 billion for shuttered live venues in December, but the Small Business Administration has not yet started accepting applications or announced a launch date for the program.

A full recovery of the sector will only be possible with increased government assistance, said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has had a profound and negative impact on the industry. It has forced facilities to close, thrust thousands into unemployment and pushed businesses to the brink of collapse,” DiNapoli said in an announcement Wednesday.

“The challenges facing the arts and entertainment sector require direct and impactful support from policymakers to maintain the city’s extensive cultural offerings,” he added in the report.

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