Report: Wisconsin arts organizations have begun to bounce back from the ‘existential threat’ of the pandemic

Supported by federal relief funding, arts and culture organizations in Wisconsin are showing signs of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

The report, titled “State of the Arts”, follows a 2020 Policy Forum report that called the pandemic an “existential threat” to arts organisations. In the latest update, researchers found that employment in the arts sector recovered significantly in 2021 and showed early signs of a further recovery in 2022.

“It’s a generally encouraging picture,” said lead writer Joe Peterangelo. “There are still challenges facing arts and culture in Wisconsin, but we’ve seen a lot of signs of recovery.”

Analyzing data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report found that employment in the performing arts, spectator sports, museums, historic sites, motion picture and sound recording industries significantly recovered in the spring and summer of 2021.

In addition, preliminary data shows that employment in the broader “arts, entertainment and recreation sector” last month actually exceeded 2019 levels by 9.6%.

Although the pandemic was predicted to bring down the curtain on many arts organizations, the report found that has not been the case. After plummeting in the first quarter of 2020, the total number of arts establishments in Wisconsin grew slowly and was 6.4% higher in the third quarter of 2021 than at the same time in 2019, according to the report.

Federal relief funding has played a huge role in keeping Wisconsin’s arts industry afloat. In total, the report shows about $440 million in pandemic relief funds have been directed to arts and culture institutions in Wisconsin over the past two years.

“Without this support, it is possible that many more Wisconsin organizations and businesses would have been lost,” the report said.

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Jennifer Uphoff Gray is the Artistic Director of Forward Theater Company in Madison. In January, she told Wisconsin Public Radio that she was “more optimistic than pessimistic” about the outlook for 2022, with the company in the middle of its 13th season.

“It’s because I understood that it’s going to take several years of reconstruction for our company and for the artistic groups,” she said.

The Policy Forum report found that Wisconsin allocated 5.8% of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to arts, culture and tourism, while states averaged 1.7% to l national scale. Still, Peterangelo pointed out that federal funds will run out in 2022 or 2023, and while revenue from ticket sales and charitable contributions have rebounded for many organizations, they may not have returned to US levels. before the pandemic.

Uphoff Gray is also worried about what will happen when pandemic-related arts support ends. His business has new costs like COVID-19 testing, video streaming, and stunt doubles for every actor that were never a concern before the pandemic.

“Our costs are so much higher than before the pandemic, and I don’t think government support is something we can count on,” she said.

Still, she is happy to see audiences returning to the theatre. In April, Forward Theater Company announced its 2022-23 season.

“We schedule bigger shows, exciting shows and want to remind people why they love coming to live theater,” she said.

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