OC Arts Community Suffers Losses, Still Gives Back

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South Coast Repertory / courtesy of SCR

There’s an old showbiz adage: “The show must go on.” But these days, it’s all but impossible just to raise the curtain.

Orange County’s vibrant arts community has suffered a $16 million financial blow to date as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey released by Arts Orange County.

That many not seem like a huge number compared to the billions of dollars batted around in congress, but according to the annual Otis Report on the Creative Economy, Orange County’s arts and creative sector (which includes more than 700 non-profit organizations and employs, directly and indirectly, over 90,000 people) accounts for more than 4 percent of Orange County’s gross economic product and generates nearly $1 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Those are significant numbers.

According to Arts Orange County, the county’s officially-designated local arts agency, the economic toll from job losses, canceled performances, and reduced philanthropic support is being felt throughout Orange County.

The Newport Beach Film Festival at the Lido Theater during a past event. — Photo by Christopher Trela ©

ArtsOC recently surveyed leaders from 42 OC arts organizations of all sizes and arts disciplines. Locally, those include Backhausdance, Baroque Music Festival of Corona del Mar, Festival of Arts & Pageant of the Masters, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Dance Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, National Choreographers Initiative, Orange County Museum of Art, Pacific Symphony, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and South Coast Repertory.

Results of the survey:

  • Nearly 1 million admissions have been lost due to cancelled events.
  • 62% of arts entities anticipate a severe financial impact from the crisis.
  • 31% of arts organizations have been forced to lay-off or furlough staff.
  • 43% have implemented salary reductions.
  • 52% are depleting cash reserves to meet their obligations.

“Orange County’s arts organizations enrich and educate our community, expressing our common humanity through art. Our first concern is for the people suffering from this illness and for the many who are undergoing financial hardship as a result of the crisis–including the many artists who live and work in our community,” said Richard Stein, President & CEO of ArtsOC, in a statement. “Sadly, it is apparent from the survey that the arts organizations who serve our citizens and employ these artists are now themselves in serious jeopardy.”

Stein noted that in addition to the artists, dancers, and musicians out of work, the arts community “creates jobs and generates economic revenue for skilled trades and independent contractors, as well as small businesses such as suppliers on whom they depend, and restaurants frequented by their audiences.”

According to Stein, federal stimulus programs that were designed to include non-profit organizations are failing to reach arts organizations in Orange County. Just nine OC arts organizations surveyed have been approved for the Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program.

Despite their challenges, arts groups are finding new ways to provide their artistic programs to Orange County residents. More than three-quarters of arts organizations are offering arts content digitally. Nearly 100 online and virtual arts experiences are available, from dance and acting classes to lectures and virtual art tours.

A list can be found on SparkOC.com, ArtsOC’s free events website.


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