Survey finds Western Massachusetts cultural sector lost $55.1M during pandemic

Massachusetts Statehouse. (Photo by Ana Goni-Lessan/BU News Service)

By Elizabeth McLaughlin
BU News Service

BOSTON — The Western Massachusetts arts and cultural sector has lost $55,113,180 in revenue since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The data, compiled from 178 nonprofit and municipal organizations, shows that Western Massachusetts suffered the second-highest revenue loss in the sector, behind the greater Boston region, which has been hit with a loss of over $314 million.

Overall, the revenue loss from 898 organizations across the state totaled at $483,519,270.

The Berkshire Bach Society, a nonprofit music organization celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is among the cultural organizations feeling the financial impact of the pandemic.

According to Executive Director Paula Hatch, Berkshire Bach was unable to finish its spring season and had to cancel two fundraisers, along with its first two concerts of the season.

“The loss of two fundraising concerts is significantly devastating to us,” she said.

The inability to hold live concerts also has meant that Berkshire Bach had to forgo ticket and advertising revenue.

The organization will hold its annual New Year’s Eve concert via livestream with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, but Hatch believes that it is unlikely it will be able to find its usual level of sponsorship.

“Our advertisers are struggling just as much as we are,” she said.

“I believe that we’ll make it through; I’m happy to say that, but, of course, like every other arts organization, it won’t be easy.”

Music in Common, another nonprofit music organization that works in the Berkshires and other communities nationwide to bring together teens and young adults for collaboration and performances, also has been hit hard.

Executive Director Todd Mack said the loss has been staggering because its revenue is centered around programming, and every program offered before now for the past 15 years of the organization’s existence has taken place in person.

Without in-person programming, Music in Common has been losing revenue from grants, event fees and general donations.

“Like many of us, we have had to scramble to figure out how to reinvent ourselves to be able to meet the moment and still serve our mission,” Mack said.

But, Mack said the organization and the arts and cultural sector have been met with support.

“The response has been pretty consistent nationwide; organizations like the MCC have been really strong advocates for both nonprofits but also artists … we’ve seen it across both sectors, where there have been lots of people rising to the occasion to help provide resources for those of us who have been hit hard by this thing.”

Similarly, Executive Director Margaret Keller of Berkshire-based nonprofit Community Access to the Arts, said the Massachusetts Cultural Council survey is valuable to help get a deeper understanding of what the crisis has done to the field.

“The impact is going to be felt in a pretty deep way here in the Berkshires, because the cultural economy is such a significant piece of our economic life and just of our everyday arts and culture life,” Keller said.

CATA has not had to cut any programming since the onset of the pandemic, and, to the contrary, has expanded some of its work to meet its mission of nurturing and celebrating the creativity of people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are especially vulnerable to coronavirus, and isolation and disconnection, and the ongoing impacts of quarantine are really taking a heavy toll on this population. In response to that, CATA has worked to, in fact, expand our programs since the spring, when the pandemic first hit,” Keller said.

But, she said the organization still is engaging in scenario planning and keeping an eye on cash flow to understand what the months and year ahead will look like.

“We are taking it one month at a time,” Keller said.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is a state agency that allocates grants and funding to cultural organizations across the commonwealth, including local cultural councils that, in turn, fund programming in their surrounding communities.

According to Sheffield Cultural Council Chair Amy Rudnick, the council was supposed to fund 26 projects totaling about $9,000 this year. The grants were made up of money allocated by the MCC and from local fundraising efforts by the council.

But, the coronavirus pandemic stalled out most of the projects, though some were able to take place remotely. Many organizations requested that their funding be rolled over into 2021.

The Massachusetts House and the Senate Ways and Means committee budgets for the 2021 fiscal year have recommended a $18.2 million investment in the arts and cultural sector.

The House passed its budget Thursday. After the Senate finishes its debate next week, a conference committee will develop a joint budget that will go to Gov. Charlie Baker for approval.

This article was originally published in The Berkshire Eagle.

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