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Arts

Survey Estimates St. Louis Arts Groups Lost $2.5 Million During Pandemic

Brian McKinley, left, and Drummond Crenshaw rehearse a scene from 'Spell #7' at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre at Washington University.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The Black Rep canceled performances of "Spell #7" due to the coronavirus. Ninety-two percent of local arts groups canceled events. Brian McKinley and Drummond Crenshaw are seen here in rehearsal.

Leaders at fewer than half the arts organizations in the St. Louis area say they are confident their organizations will survive the impact of COVID-19. 

That uncertainty is revealed in a survey by the national advocacy group Americans for the Arts. 

Only 38 of 79 arts organization leaders in St. Louis and in St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin and Jefferson counties who responded reported that they will likely survive the economic disruptions of the pandemic. Nationwide, 58% of arts organizations who responded to the survey expressed confidence.

St. Louis-area arts organizations lost more than $2.5 million during the coronavirus crisis, according to the survey’s calculations.

Ninety-two percent of responding local arts groups have canceled events, amounting to 174,890 lost admissions. 

The Black Rep, which is included in the national survey, was in the midst of a successful production of Ntozake Shange’s “Spell #7” when limits on public gatherings in St. Louis and St. Louis County went into effect in March. Producing Director Ron Himes had extended the show an extra week because of strong ticket sales, but the company was only able to go forward with one of the five additional performances. 

After optimistically postponing it by just a month, he also canceled the production of George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta” that was originally scheduled to close the season on May 21.

Himes said the financial blow from cancellations was lessened because only about 15% of ticketholders asked for refunds. But the theater announced Friday it will bump its September show back by a year. He is unsure if the Black Rep will proceed with a show scheduled for January 2021.

“In the past, where we’ve had challenges, at least they were challenges that we somehow could wrap our heads and our thinking around,” Himes said. “This is an instance in which we have absolutely little to no control over how long this pandemic will continue to impact us as a community and a world.”

St. Louis-area arts organizations laid off 13 employees and furloughed another 30, according to the survey, which includes data through Friday. Nearly one quarter of responding organizations indicated that they are “extremely likely” to see temporary or permanent reductions in workforce.

“One of the challenges here is there’s so much uncertainty in the future. Nobody knows when they’ll be able to open up again, and the challenge for the arts is: first to close, last to open,” said Randy Cohen, vice president of research at Americans for the Arts.

Local organizations also cited a lack of available cash reserves and a drop in donations as major concerns. 

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JeremyDGoodwin

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