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New COVID study indicates Massachusetts is in a 'cultural depression'

Dancers with the National Dance Institute perform at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts.
Angel Gardner, National Dance Institute
Creative Commons
Dancers with the National Dance Institute perform at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts.

The Mass Cultural Council has released a new COVID impact survey indicating that while many arts organizations have reopened, audiences have not returned to pre-pandemic times.

Even with historic levels of state funding and federal relief money "we're in a cultural depression," said Michael Bobbitt, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council.

Museums and show venues are open but people are not venturing out in the same way Bobbitt said, especially since many arts patrons are older and more vulnerable to the virus.

Museums and theaters are looking at how to attract new patrons Bobbitt said, and many of these things were revealed in the latest survey.

"I want to impress to people that the survey is a snapshot of the problem ... we still have 3 to 5 years before we'll be back, and it's a possibility that we may never come back to the way we were prior to the pandemic," Bobbitt said.

The council has conducted six COVID impact surveys since the pandemic began, the latest using 12 months of data starting in March 2021.

Nearly 300 cultural organizations reported $192,691,951 in lost revenue. More than half reported they laid off employees or reduced their hours.

According to previous surveys, since the start of the pandemic just over two years ago, 1,084 cultural organizations lost $781 million in revenue; 3,048 creative individuals lost $31.9 million in income.

This could be the final survey of its kind from the council. Bobbitt said their organization is connecting with MassCreative to write a "state of the state of the arts" report — which would be more illustrative about COVID's impact on the Massachusetts arts sector.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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