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Challenges to performing arts mount with fall season uncertain

Kristin Schwab Jun 10, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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The New York Philharmonic performs in 2018. About 40% of revenue for performing-arts nonprofits comes from live events. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Challenges to performing arts mount with fall season uncertain

Kristin Schwab Jun 10, 2020
The New York Philharmonic performs in 2018. About 40% of revenue for performing-arts nonprofits comes from live events. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

One of the country’s biggest performing-arts organizations, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, recently announced it’s canceling its fall season. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra followed today.

It’s a sign the arts world is coming to terms with the idea that performances may not happen for a while.

Every night at 7:30 eastern, the Metropolitan Opera streams a recorded performance. Today, it’s “Hansel and Gretel” — the fairy tale about a brother and sister lost in the woods.

Watching this from your couch in sweatpants doesn’t scream glamorous evening at the opera. But for dance, music and theater, this is, unfortunately, the way things might have to be for a while.

“I don’t think there’s any substitute to the live, in-person, nonvirtual events,” said Sunil Iyengar, the research director at the National Endowment for the Arts.

He said performing-arts nonprofits get about 40% of their revenue from ticket sales, concessions and gift shops. Streaming free performances online and asking for donations won’t make up for that. Companies already rely on donors for almost half their budgets.

“I think a lot of organizations are struggling with the issue of how to monetize these strategies,” Iyengar said.

Pamela Robinson, a professor of performing-arts administration at New York University, said some of this isn’t about making money now, but about attracting new audiences in the future.

“It’s really important to stay in touch with your patrons,” Robinson said. “Even after you open, that could open the doors to additional revenue and recognition.”

Robinson said one canceled fall season could impact companies for the next two years. There may not be money for new productions or splashy sets, and companies might have to rely on old standards.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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