DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — With empty theaters well into 2021, Ohio’s arts and creative industry continues to feel the impact of the pandemic. Despite health restrictions being lifted, many arts organizations are finding it hard to fully reopen and are facing even bigger challenges making up for financial loss.
“It’s been a challenge for sure,” said Sarah Robertson, VP of operations for Dayton Live. A survey of 40 organizations by Ohio Citizens for the Arts found a combined loss of over $136 million since March last year. Dayton Live alone lost millions. The organization is now battling the hiring crisis to get back up to speed.
“On March 10, I had about 250 employees and as we got into the late summer months of 2020 we were down to 26 employees,” said Ty Sutton, the president and CEO of Dayton Live.
Officials at Dayton Live said maintaining the theaters has also been a struggle.
“When buildings go unused things happen and all of a sudden you try to turn things back on all at once and maybe find some things that maybe need a little help,” said Robertson.
“We’re probably going to do a million dollars of maintenance in the Schuster Center alone which is just one of our 5 properties,” Sutton said.
About 92 percent of the organizations budget comes from earned income. Sutton estimates they made all but 5 percent of that during the pandemic. Down the road, The Human Race Performing Arts Theater is a non-profit but is also facing significant loss.
Kappy Kilburn, the executive director said, “As a not for profit. if we balanced our budget, paid for all of our expenses on earned revenue, I would have to charge $155 per seat and sell every seat for every show in our theater.”
Wednesday the organization began streaming it’s second online production “The Revolutionists” with the help of state funding.
“We got the PPP loans and that is the only reason I was able to bring my staff back and that was a huge priority of mine,” Kilburn said.
Ohio Citizens for the Arts has submitted requests to the DeWine Administration and legislative leaders
for critically needed funding from the American Rescue Plan allocated to the state. They’re asking for an additional $50 million in relief aid for arts and creative businesses.
Both Kilburn and Sutton said they’re optimistic, but expect a slow recovery. Ohio Citizens for the Arts said the organizations they’ve surveyed anticipate, on average, at least 18 months before they expect to see pre-pandemic revenue levels.