COVID-19

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
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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’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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