Coronavirus impact

Dallas arts groups have lost nearly $100 million during pandemic, report says

Dallas arts groups have lost nearly $100M during pandemic, report says

DSO, concert truck
Dallas Symphony Orchestra presented concerts via mobile concert truck in late 2020. Photo courtesy of The Concert Truck

The first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Dallas nonprofit arts and culture community to the tune of more than $95 million and 1,000 jobs, a sobering new report shows.

The third survey on the pandemic's impact conducted by a trio of Dallas arts advocacy organizations — The Arts Community Alliance (TACA), Dallas Arts District (DAD), and Dallas Area Cultural Advocacy Coalition (DACAC) — covered the period from March 13, 2020 (initial government-mandated shutdowns) through November 30, 2020. Results were detailed in a February 5 news release.

In total, the pandemic-related impact for the nonprofit arts community within the city of Dallas reached $95,545,710 in financial losses, including 3,145,209 in lost or deferred attendance, the report showed. 

“The impact of the pandemic on the arts in Dallas — financial, human and cultural — continues to be staggering,” says Terry D. Loftis, president and executive director of the arts funding organization TACA, in the release. “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.”

Seventy groups responded to the most recent survey, but a total of 91 organizations provided economic impact figures across all three surveys the trio conducted in 2020; those losses are aggregated as part of the total economic impact, the report says. Individual artists were not surveyed.

According to the most recent report, the 2020 closures of museums and performing arts venues caused:

  • Performing arts organizations to cancel or defer 2,088 performances
  • Visual arts organizations to close, collectively, for 2,142 attendance days
  • All groups together to cancel or reschedule 9,725 workshops, classes, and programs

Many performing arts organizations, such as The Dallas Opera, had to cancel or push back entire seasons into 2022, losing almost two years’ worth of earned revenue.

According to the release, since the initial shutdowns:

• 15 arts and cultural facilities have reopened for live, in-person experiences at a reduced capacity.
• 40 of the respondents said their traditional performance or exhibition space has not been able to reopen.
• 27 organizations have resumed presenting live, in-person programing.
• 37 respondents are using virtual platforms or streaming, or are presenting their work in new and alternative spaces, including parking garages, warehouses, storefronts, churches, plazas, parks, and outdoor performance venues.

Safety was the number one barrier to reopening, the survey showed. Groups said they didn't have the resources, rehearsal space, or blessing of their audiences to reopen safely. "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," one respondent said.

Fourteen groups cited union restrictions as their top barrier to reopening. The Actors' Equity Association revoked Firehouse Theatre's status as an Equity producer last fall when a COVID-19 outbreak forced the abrupt shutdown of a production at the Farmers Branch theater.

For arts organizations that have been able to present live and in-person experiences or virtual, 39 groups say they have been able to generate revenue through admissions or fees — but at lower rates than normal. Most say they have been able to fundraise to make ends meet, even when they can't rely on lavish galas and other large gatherings to do so. Funding from the city has also helped, they say.

“The fact that the City of Dallas was able to keep the funding for most organizations level with the prior year helps explain why most Dallas arts and cultural organizations have survived,” says Joanna St. Angelo, Sammons Center for the Arts Executive Director, in the release. “The next year will be a challenge, but we are fortunate our city leaders recognize the importance of the arts community to the economy, jobs, tourism and the quality of life in Dallas.”

Dallas arts groups will continue to innovate to survive in 2021 and beyond, they say. Besides presenting virtual shows, they have taken their performances into unique spaces, such as parking lots, drive-ins, and garages; the Dallas Symphony Orchestra even brought in a mobile concert truck.

“There is no question our arts community is creative, passionate and resilient, but limited resources only go so far,” says Lily Weiss, executive director of the Dallas Arts District, in the release. “These are small businesses sustaining major revenue and job losses. I worry that many of our organizations are reaching a tipping point. This is going to be a very difficult year.”