The Oklahoma Arts Council has issued a dire warning about the state of Oklahoma’s arts industry in the wake of COVID-19. According to the council, a new report released by the Brookings institution paints a grim picture of the state’s arts and cultural industry.

The ongoing economic crisis created by COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the art world. Community theaters across the country have permanently closed their doors, art festivals have been canceled for the foreseeable future, music venues have been unable to hold concerts and even fundraisers, the lifeblood of most arts programs, are stymied. And Oklahoma has not been spared the effects.

The report shows that between April 1 and July 31, 2020, Oklahoma experienced an estimated loss of 19,504 creative industry jobs and $606 million in sales of creative industry goods and services. Data indicates the fine and performing arts have been hit hardest by the pandemic, with losses disproportionate to other parts of the creative economy – representing up to 50 percent of jobs lost in some cases.

Oklahoma Arts Council Executive Director Amber Sharples said without further relief for the arts sector, the data implies a grim outlook for Oklahoma.

“This report verifies the dire circumstances facing our sector,” Sharples said. “Artists and creative workers are out of jobs; performance venues, theaters, and festivals are shuttered; and, fundraising events are nearly impossible. As creative industries and occupations are essential to a healthy and growing Oklahoma economy, there is real risk of long-term negative outcomes for our state. We must pursue all means necessary to provide relief to the arts industry so that our state can continue its Top Ten trajectory.”

A study released in 2017 showed that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences in Oklahoma have significant economic impact, including: producing $872.8 million in economic activity, supporting 29,165 jobs, generating $84.5 million in state and local tax revenue.

According to the authors of the Brookings Institution report, the creative sector is one of three key sectors that drive regional economies. The authors state that lasting damage to an area’s creative sector will drastically undercut culture, well-being, and quality of life.

At the local level, the impact has been staggering according to Bobbi Matchette the Executive Director of Arts for All.

“Arts for All has had to cancel two of our major fundraising events — the AFA Festival in May, and the Arts Gala in November,” Matchette said. “This is a loss of approximately $100,000 which would have been allocated to our six participating member groups next fiscal year. While we have always tried to plan with the future in mind, it will certainly mean cutting back for the near future.”

Beyond fundraising opportunities, youth outreach by local arts groups has also been greatly impacted. According to Matchette, all of Arts for All’s member groups have had to cancel outreach programming this year due to the ongoing pandemic.

“While all of that kind of outreach is cost free to children, schools, and parents, it leaves a great void in the lives of our young ones,” Matchette said.

Chance Harmon, managing director of Lawton Community Theatre, one of Arts for All’s member groups, seconded Matchette’s worry.

“We lost around $45,000 in ticket sales alone,” Harmon said. “That’s not to mention concession, sponsorships, merch sales and all of that.”

But hope springs eternal in the hearts of artists. Despite the devastating loss of revenue and opportunities, Matchette still believes in the future of the state’s arts industry.

“As grim as it feels, the arts community still has hope,” Matchette said. “We see this as a time to stop, reevaluate, learn, and plan. We have a solid history of working together and supporting each other. And, as surely as wild flowers grow up through the cracks in the concrete, the arts will spring back.”

Recommended for you