We’re finally seeing smiles again as the vaccination rate impressively climbs in New Jersey and capacity limits on cultural venues are lifted. Many major arts and cultural venues are now reopening and planning new full season programs. They, and so many others throughout this pandemic, deserve our utmost admiration and gratitude for their resourcefulness, skillful dedication of limited resources and scrupulous adherence to guidelines to keep the arts alive and welcome the public back safely.
However, this may give the misimpression that the entire nonprofit cultural industry of our state, which two years ago generated $23 billion in economic activity, is fully ready to restore its place as a key economic driver. We must remember, the arts were among our nation’s industries instantly stopped — put out of business by COVID-19 — and without help now hundreds of New Jersey arts venues and organizations may be among the very last to fully reopen. Their financial losses, as industries that live on razor-thin margins and limited reserves, were enormous.
Nearly 74,000 creative workers in New Jersey were laid off due to the pandemic. Hiring is just now beginning, but with considerably less operational revenue, which they would have otherwise earned in the marketplace. While government support through the CARES Act prevented the catastrophe of watching most New Jersey organizations dissolve altogether, many venues are still awaiting release of essential federal funds through the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venues Operating Grants to support their reopening efforts. The challenges they face are daunting.
Foremost in their minds is the imperative to assure safe accessibility for audiences, staff and artists, and give the public confidence to return with the same vigor it had two years ago. Several industry studies predict that audience safety and comfort will dictate ticket demand. Only positive cultural experiences will generate the audiences required to produce sufficient revenue that sustains full seasons of activity and pays the bills. That means costly improvements to cultural institutions including ventilation upgrades, reconfigured seating, touchless ticketing and reoutfitted restroom and concession areas. The cultural community, innovative throughout the pandemic in keeping kids, patrons and artists alike involved in their work, never had the resources to take on such capital work even before the pandemic and is stretched beyond limits to find those resources now without incurring greater debt. Additional relief is needed right now for one of New Jersey’s most important economic drivers.
Reviving cultural life
All of these factors now conspire to protract the full reopening for a vital industry that was devastatingly affected by the pandemic. There is still a long way to go. We call upon everyone to help revive the cultural life in our state as soon as possible. New Jersey’s arts organizations need support from all sources comprising the cultural philanthropic ecosystem — corporate, foundation, individual and government. They are, in essence, re-startup and capital funds, and are needed now until programming can fully resume and earn the increased revenue required to stabilize operations. Donations can be made to the New Jersey Arts & Culture Recovery Fund.
Critical support may also come through the new American Rescue Plan (ARP) to help the arts rebound. However, accessing these government funds for the cultural community will require ground-level conversations between advocates and policymakers to ensure that such investments are made on state, county and municipal levels.
In order for the curtains to rise fully and soon at all our beloved cultural venues, your continued donations are needed and your voices must be heard by our government leaders. ArtPride NJ stands ready to help you join, lead and listen in on these important conversations. For more information and help, visit the ArtPride New Jersey website and utilize the data available at#KeepJerseyArtsAlive.