Pandemic cost Dallas arts $95 million in 2020

Arts organizations within the city of Dallas have lost more than $95 million during the pandemic, suffered a stunning drop of more than 3 million in “lost or deferred attendance” and seen the disappearance of more than 1,000 jobs, according to a startling new survey released this week and shared first with The Dallas Morning News.

The survey covers only the period from March 13, when the coronavirus provoked a national emergency, to the end of November. December is omitted from the findings, as are the losses sustained by cultural organizations outside the city limits.

The study is the third compiled by The Arts Community Alliance (TACA); the Dallas Arts District; and the Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition. What it shows is a persistent plummeting of the finances of city arts organizations, which continue to struggle with the searing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not one organization surveyed has folded, but the future is anything but bright.

“The impact of the pandemic on the arts in Dallas — financial, human and cultural — continues to be staggering,” said Terry D. Loftis, president and executive director of The Arts Community Alliance, known as TACA. “We’re encouraged that our organizations are resilient and finding ways to engage the community. But these losses are not sustainable, and no one is expecting a return to normal anytime soon.”

David Lozano, the executive artistic director of Cara Mia Theatre, poses for a photograph on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas.(Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)

David Lozano, executive artistic director of Cara Mía Theatre, one of the city’s small arts companies and one of the 70 participating in the survey, said: “It’s as bad as it sounds. The situation we’re facing is that we clearly have not been able to generate revenue, as we typically do, so everyone’s been working their hardest to raise money to sustain our organizations.”

Jennifer Scripps, director of the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture, called the effects of the pandemic on the city’s cultural landscape “devastating.”

“And no one,” she said, “has escaped untouched.”

Debbie Storey, president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, called the situation “horrific. People are literally fighting for their lives. The tragic part of this is the number of people out of jobs.”

Going one year without revenue is one thing. But the prospect of a second without any appreciable income — which 2021 could become — has exacerbated the sense of dread. Major arts groups benefit enormously from philanthropy — the $360 million AT&T Performing Arts Center opened in 2009 with all but $18 million coming from private sources — and yet, arts groups employ thousands whose financial lives are in peril.

“The lost revenue tells the story of the high impact, if you will,” Storey said. “But it doesn’t fully tell the story of the extent to which people’s lives have been affected.”

The federal Paycheck Protection Program preserved some jobs but not all. Many organizations received PPP loans, which have since been forgiven. Among the city’s arts organizations, they range from the $27,497 that Lozano’s Cara Mía Theatre received to the $4.1 million allocated to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The Dallas Museum of Art received $2.5 million in PPP money, the Dallas Opera $1.399 million.

The earliest survey of Dallas arts groups, which covered March 13 through May 31, 2020, showed losses of $33.65 million, based on data gathered from 56 participating companies. The second, covering March 13 through July 31, revealed a red-ink sea of $67.7 million. The third and most recent survey shows exact losses of $95,545,710, with a drop of 3,145,209 in collective attendance.

Ninety-one organizations responded to the second survey, but the number responding to the third dropped to 70, indicating that the 2020 losses may be even more severe than the latest survey indicates.

In additional interviews conducted by The News, the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Nasher Sculpture Center, AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center and Dallas Summer Musicals detailed steep declines that won’t be easily ameliorated.

The symphony saw its annual budget plummet $5.3 million. Dallas Summer Musicals lost $1.9 million in net revenue during 2020. For the Nasher, it was $3.3 million.

What the pandemic proved is that arts organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to hang on, with little to no earned revenue. And philanthropy and government assistance cannot be counted on indefinitely. At best, they are a Band-Aid for a hemorrhaging patient.

Dallas Summer Musicals went dark in March of 2020, with not a single show staged since. The earliest Broadway musicals can return to its stage is August, when the perennial favorite Wicked is booked for The Music Hall at Fair Park, but not even that is certain.

Empty seats at the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas photographed on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.
Empty seats at the Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas photographed on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

As those in charge of Dallas’ arts groups say optimistically, but guardedly, they’re banking on coronavirus vaccines to provide the turning point.

For arts groups to receive an economic boost, “Vaccines have to work immediately,” Lozano said. “And totally.”

Other companies have tried to reopen or cultivate creative options for staying alive, such as streaming content over the internet, but so far, nothing remotely approaches the halcyon days before the pandemic.

“One of the biggest silver linings has been seeing the arts community — groups of all art forms and sizes — coming together to work through this crisis,” Storey said. “Many of the arts leaders have met on a weekly basis since the beginning of the pandemic. We share ideas, challenges and victories.”

Last summer, Gov. Greg Abbott announced safety guidelines that allowed museums and performance venues to reopen, albeit at greatly reduced capacity. Most are now legally permitted to fill at half their full capacities, though few have done so.

The survey found that visual arts companies — museums, galleries and exhibitions — remained closed for a collective 2,142 days. Classes, programs and workshops put on by arts companies suffered 9,725 cancellations.

The performing arts alone racked up 2,088 canceled or deferred performances.

Fifteen arts and cultural facilities, covering performing and visual arts, have reopened for “live, in-person experiences” at reduced capacity. But 40 respondents told surveyors that their traditional performance or exhibition spaces have not been able to reopen — at all.

Thirty-seven respondents say they have been forced to rely on streaming or turn to alternative spaces, which run the gamut, with shows in parking garages, warehouses, storefronts, churches, plazas, parks and the great outdoors. Storey said ATTPAC benefited from being able to use its outdoor venue, Annette Strauss Square.

And yet, despite creative endeavors to cope with the crisis, 39 respondents cited safety as the No. 1 barrier to fully reopening. The survey winnowed down their concerns as follows:

— Several groups reported that visiting artists simply do not feel safe traveling.

— Others cited public perception. “Many of our long-term patrons are 65+ and have firmly stated that they are not interested in attending a live choral performance before a vaccine is widely available,” wrote one respondent.

— Some felt they don’t have the resources to ensure a safe environment. “I am the only staff in front-of-house,” said one respondent. “I cannot fathom how I would host, screen, take temperatures, enforce masking, enforce social distancing, clean, etc. in addition to normal [front-of-house] duties. I could cry just thinking about it.”

— Fourteen groups cited union restrictions as their top barrier to reopening. Actors Equity Association, the primary union for theatrical performers, has, with few exceptions, taken a fiercely hard line against having its members work during the pandemic. That has deeply affected Dallas Theater Center but also Broadway, which has said it will remain shuttered through May, if not longer.

— Ten cited financial problems due to reduced audience capacity.

— Seven said the No. 1 barrier was the lack of rehearsal and performance space, with some noting that many cultural centers and performance spaces have simply not reopened.

Officials from seven of the largest arts organizations agreed to provide The News additional information, which illustrates how dire the situation is for the city’s arts heavyweights. Their individual updates are outlined below.

Dallas artist Ciara Elle Bryant poses for a portrait in her installation "Server: A Streamed Revolution" Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. The piece, which was inspired by Bryant's response to the Black Lives Matter movement, is installed just inside the glass front doors so that it can be viewed from the sidewalk while the center is closed due to the coronavirus.
Dallas artist Ciara Elle Bryant poses for a portrait in her installation “Server: A Streamed Revolution” Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. The piece, which was inspired by Bryant’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement, is installed just inside the glass front doors so that it can be viewed from the sidewalk while the center is closed due to the coronavirus.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

Nasher Sculpture Center

Financial impact: $3.3 million drop in revenue, forcing a decline in the annual budget from $12.3 million to $9 million.

“It is critical to note,” said Jill Magnuson, director of external affairs for the Nasher, “that even that decline would have fared worse had it not been for the initial PPP loan.”

PPP loan: $749,700 in April 2020, “allowing us,” Magnuson said, “to retain a full-time and part-time staff of 55 and to support” the cost of utilities.

Layoffs, furloughs: None. “We were supported by the PPP” loan, Magnuson said, “and several individual donors who earmarked their additional support for staffing costs.”

Pay cuts: None.

A hand sanitizing station at the Dallas Museum of Art on Aug. 28, 2020 in Dallas.
A hand sanitizing station at the Dallas Museum of Art on Aug. 28, 2020 in Dallas.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Dallas Museum of Art

Financial impact: The DMA’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. The museum is projecting a $4.513 million decline (-36%) in combined, contributed and earned revenue between the 2020 fiscal year and the 2021 fiscal year. Earned revenue is projected at a -67% decline between the 2020 fiscal year and the 2021 fiscal year.

PPP loan: $2.5 million. DMA officials said it permitted them “to fully maintain staffing at its current level.”

Layoffs, furloughs: None.

Pay cuts: None.

Staff size: Total, 262; full time, 233; part time, 21; interns, 8; freelance and/or contractors, 40 to 55, depending on the project.

Assistant choreographer Mayte Natalio rehearses with the cast of 'The Tempest,' the launch of Dallas Theater Center's Public Works Dallas program. The show will feature a cast of 200, most of them non-actors from the Dallas community. The show will be presented March 3-5 at the Wyly Theatre in the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.
Assistant choreographer Mayte Natalio rehearses with the cast of ‘The Tempest,’ the launch of Dallas Theater Center’s Public Works Dallas program. The show will feature a cast of 200, most of them non-actors from the Dallas community. The show will be presented March 3-5 at the Wyly Theatre in the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.(David Leeson)

Dallas Theater Center

Financial impact: In the 2019 fiscal year, before the pandemic, its operating budget was $9.6 million. In the 2020 fiscal year, during which the pandemic began, its operating budget dipped to $8.4 million. The company has not yet determined what its budget will be for the 2021 fiscal year. Officials expect a budget reduction of 25% more.

PPP loan: $690,000.

Layoffs, furloughs: “We did not lay off or furlough any full-time staff.”

Extenuating circumstance: The budget for the current fiscal year remains uncertain because “we are not certain when we will be given permission by Actors Equity to have the actors return. Very few professional theaters have been given permission by the union to have the actors return.”

Pay cuts: Frozen salaries, no pay cuts.

The empty Winspear Opera House photographed in Dallas on Feb. 4, 2021. (Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News)
The empty Winspear Opera House photographed in Dallas on Feb. 4, 2021. (Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

The Dallas Opera

Financial impact: General director and CEO Ian Derrer answered that the opera’s expenses have fallen by 22%, “which,” he said, “is another way of saying the budget shrank by 22%.”

PPP loan: $1.399 million, according to data provided by the Small Business Administration. It permitted “partial payments” to performers and other employees, despite the cancellation of performances.

Layoffs, furloughs: Some staff members were furloughed between May and June of 2020 but were able to retain health insurance and other benefits.

Lost revenue: Derrer said the cancellation of 14 main-stage opera performances and the Songs for Dallas Community Concert resulted in a loss of $1.6 million in ticket sales. The opera recently announced the cancellation of its spring season.

Pay cuts: Derrer and music director Emmanuel Villaume took voluntary pay cuts of 25%. Salary reductions for staff, which began May 1, ranged from 10% to 25%. Those directly affected by cancellations, such as “orchestra musicians, choristers, stagehands, stitchers, dressers, wig and make-up artists and production staff,” had pay slashed by 50%.

Members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra play in the Concert Truck at NorthPark Mall in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.
Members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra play in the Concert Truck at NorthPark Mall in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.(Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Financial impact: Its annual budget declined $5.3 million, from $40 million to $34.7 million.

PPP loan: $4.1 million, which was used, in the words of President and CEO Kim Noltemy, “for eligible payroll costs.”

Layoffs, furloughs: 17 furloughs. “Five people were laid off,” Noltemy said, “and 12 people brought back.”

Pay cuts: Effective July 6, administrative salaries were cut between 2.5% and 12.5%. Noltemy and music director Fabio Luisi each took a 25% pay cut. Orchestra members took a 10% pay cut.

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Financial impact: President and CEO Debbie Storey said, “We had seven months of normal activity,” from one fiscal year to the next, “and then five months of pandemic activity — or no activity.” As a result, ATTPAC’s annual budget has declined from $28 million in 2019 to $14 million in 2021.

PPP loan: $1.2 million.

Layoffs, furloughs: Storey described ATTPAC’s “pre-pandemic staffing” as being 76 full-time employees and 35 part-time employees for a total of 111. Its current staff is 50 full-time employees and one part-time employee for a total of 51, representing a decline of 56%.

Pay cuts: Between 20% and 50%, staffwide.

Chamblee Ferguson as English oil engineer Nick Marson kisses his bride-to-be in the touring Broadway musical "Come From Away."
Chamblee Ferguson as English oil engineer Nick Marson kisses his bride-to-be in the touring Broadway musical “Come From Away.”(Matthew Murphy)

Dallas Summer Musicals

Financial impact: Its 2019 fiscal year generated $45 million in gross revenue, due largely to the staging of Hamilton. By comparison, its 2020 fiscal year generated $14 million in gross revenue “versus,” DSM officials said, “a budget of $28 million pre-pandemic.” At the moment, company officials estimate gross revenues for the 2021 fiscal year as being “somewhere between $1 million and $7.8 million depending on when full-capacity live performances can safely return to Dallas.”

PPP loan: $700,000.

Layoffs, furloughs: 8 layoffs, 4 full furloughs, 8 partial furloughs.

Pay Cuts: 15 remaining staff are working with salary reductions of up to 25%.

The ensemble performs in Act 2 during the final dress rehearsal of 'La Bohème' presented by the Dallas Opera at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas on March 12, 2019.
The North American tour of the Broadway musical "Come From Away" was booked for Dallas Summer Musicals from March 10 to March 22, 2020 but was able to have only three performances before the coronavirus intervened.
It was a quiet Saturday night in the Dallas Arts District as theatres, restaurants and shops closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday, March 21, 2020.

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