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Two years into the pandemic, nearly $800 million lost in Mass. cultural sector, new report finds

Empty seats at Calderwood Pavilion in July 2021.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/file

Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic shook the Massachusetts’ arts and culture sector to its core, more than 1,000 cultural organizations surveyed throughout the state have lost $781 million in revenue, according to data collected and published by the Mass Cultural Council.

The latest economic impact report, released Monday, is the sixth such survey the state agency has conducted since the onset of the pandemic. Taken together, the surveys represent 1,084 cultural organizations and 3,048 artists and other individuals working in the cultural sector. When the MCC released a similar report last March — before many of the city’s entertainment venues and cultural spaces had fully reopened — the agency estimated losses amounted to $588 million for the first year of the pandemic.

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Now, most cultural organizations statewide — movie theaters, concert venues, museums — have been able to welcome back patrons in person, but “audiences have yet to return in large enough numbers for the hosts to rely upon earned revenue to support their work or achieve revenue goals,” said Mass Cultural Council executive director Michael J. Bobbitt in the report.

“Massachusetts’ artists, sector employees, creative individuals, and organizations have been doing their best to hang on, and we are hopeful that this spring and summer the public will enthusiastically and safely reengage with them,” said Bobbitt. “This survey reports devastating losses — but there is hope.”

A line graph, based on surveys executed by the Mass Cultural Council, illustrating revenue losses in cultural organizations since the pandemic.Mass Cultural Council

For the most recent period evaluated — March 1, 2021, to Feb. 28, 2022 — the 281 organizations responding to the latest MCC survey reported nearly $200 million in lost revenue, the vast majority of which stems “from earned revenue that never materialized,” the report said. Likewise, a persistence of layoffs, furloughs, and hour and wage reductions hit about 3,500 employees who work in the cultural sector.

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Individual artists also faced significant losses: Over the past two years, more than 3,000 individuals reported a cumulative total of almost 75,000 lost or canceled gigs and jobs and nearly $32 million in lost personal income. This breaks down to a little more than $10,000 in lost income per person since the pandemic began.

“While Mass Cultural Council is proud to have doubled its grantmaking budget for artists this year, clearly there is need for additional investment,” said Bobbitt.

A line graph, based on data collected by the Mass Cultural Council, illustrating lost income reported by individuals in the cultural sector since the pandemic began.Mass Cultural Council

The budget for grant awards, the report added, is slated to grow in the coming year. This fiscal year, the state agency was working with about $21 million in funding, “the largest state appropriation since the 1980s,” the report said. $18 million of these funds were funneled into upward of 1,500 grant awards “made in every city and town in the Commonwealth.” These grants do not include the $60.1 million in one-time state pandemic recovery funds that the Mass Cultural Council is tasked with issuing to artists and cultural organizations.

In the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the Mass Cultural Council is poised, again, to receive more than $20 million in state funding. As the new budget is drafted, Governor Charlie Baker’s office recommended the Mass Cultural Council receive $20.4 million — “the highest funding proposed by a Baker-Polito Administration budget,” the report said — and the House Committee on Ways and Means proposed $22.5 million.

One amendment up for consideration would bump up the agency’s appropriation to $27.4 million, “a record-high funding level last seen 34 years ago, in 1988,” the report said.

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“Mass Cultural Council is deeply appreciative of our partners on Beacon Hill for their continued investments supporting the cultural sector’s ongoing COVID recovery,” said Bobbitt. “We know when the cultural sector is thriving, the Commonwealth’s people, communities, and economy benefit as well.”


Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com