Arts and culture need assistance

William Arsn

As business leaders and community members, we are concerned about the ongoing economic impact facing the arts and culture sector in Northeast Ohio. We are each CEOs of businesses that strive to be community partners while also facing the massive challenges of 2020. We recognize the arts and cultural sector as an economic engine in its own right, and one that faces unique and daunting challenges as a result of COVID-19. As businesspeople, participants in the Northeast Ohio economy and members of your community, we urge you to help push for better support for the arts and culture sector now.

The arts and culture sector is the second-hardest-hit part of the economy in today’s coronavirus-related recession, with only hospitality (hotels, restaurants, and bars) reporting greater losses. A recent McKinsey report ranks arts and culture as the sector that will take the longest to recover to pre-2019 financial health. In fact, in a “muted recovery” scenario, where steps that slow the spread of the virus and address public health are slower, smaller or disjointed, the report estimates that the arts and culture sector may not return to financial health until 2025 or later. By contrast, most other sectors are expected to return to financial health by 2022, and even hospitality and food services are expected to return to financial health by 2024.

Our businesses consider arts and culture businesses a vital part of the regional economy. The arts and cultural sector includes for-profit firms working in film, architecture, design and more, as well as nonprofit museums, theaters, music groups, and nature and recreation facilities. Combined, these businesses employ 62,499 individuals, create $3.3 billion in labor income, and create more than $9 billion in overall economic impact in the five-county area.

Those 62,499 workers are worried about their futures. Layoffs and revenue losses are reaching levels unseen since the Great Recession. The economic impact is spiraling: the retail, tourism, hospitality and service sectors are all affected by these venue closures and staff losses. Spillover effects of these closures impact other sectors and businesses like ours.

Local leadership is critical to ensure the future of the arts and culture sector. A recent Crain’s Cleveland Business story looked at Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the breadth of arts and culture activity across Cuyahoga County, as well as its funding sources. A cigarette excise tax is the main source of public funding for arts and culture in Cuyahoga County, but as Crain’s noted, “As residents act more responsibly for their health, dropping smoking rates, the cigarette tax brings in fewer dollars to support the arts for them to enjoy. The tax, which supplied $19.54 million in 2008, only brought in $13.2 million in 2019, a steady decline over the years.” A regional solution for public funding was needed before COVID-19 reached Ohio’s borders, and now it’s needed more than ever.

In Northeast Ohio, there are so many stories of arts organizations and performance venues being supported by the community, just as restaurants and bars have rallied public support. Leaders in the arts and culture sector are marshaling resources every day to serve our community, and our community’s support for those efforts is needed. Let’s make sure we are each doing everything possible to support the arts and culture sector.

Mueller is the CEO of Dealer Tire LLC, which he founded with his brother, Dean, in 1999. Madison is the CEO and chairperson of RPMI, the first African American-owned architecture firm in Ohio.

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