By Bill Hirschman
The continuing damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted on the area’s cultural world – and the region’s economic health — continues to mount, according to ongoing figures gathered by Miami-Dade County officials. At the same time, the county commission has made commitments to provide some relief.
Data submitted monthly by artists, companies and gig workers since mid-March through the end of June now estimate the impact of the business interruption at $73.8 million with a total of 12,429 arts and cultural jobs affected. The monthly figures were slightly lower than in previous months, but they reflect the usual summer lull in scheduled productions and therefore the reduced expected income.
“We remain extremely alarmed about the growing negative impact that COVID-19 is having on our cultural community,” wrote Michael Spring, senior advisor to the mayor and director of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “The survey results continue to tell us what we know to be true: the very survival of arts and cultural organizations and artists-entrepreneurs is at stake.”
Officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties also have reported multi-million-dollar losses.
Venue leaders across the region have been slicing their budget projections for the coming fiscal year and several say they do not expect to open until late fall or even next spring after a vaccine is discovered and capacity restrictions are lifted, thereby avoiding losing money when mounting a production.
Under the county mayor’s current executive orders, cultural activities remain closed with the exception of nonprofit museums, public garden, and summer camps, subject to strict guidelines. A 10 p.m. curfew remains in place county-wide; some cities within the county may have earlier curfews.
Other venues, including theaters, can re-open on a limited basis with a county-approved re-opening plan, but few have been submitted, fewer approved and those have not actually reopened yet. The plan must incorporate the standards contained in the county’s New Normal Guide, to have that plan approved by the county, and to operate in conformance with the approved plan.
In the recent edition of the county’s survey:
— 83.9 percent of respondents indicated that “Administrative and Artistic Salaries/Fees” is their top financial priority
—53.4 percent indicated that “Reduced/Eliminated Earned Revenue” (including ticket sales and admission fees) is their primary income concern
—35 percent were concerned about the decline in individual donations, corporate sponsorships and foundation grants
—66.5 percent were concerned with escalating COVID-19 expenses (additional maintenance, sanitizing supplies, etc.) for this year and/or next year.
But the county government has committed to aiding the arts.
County commissioners unanimously voted Monday to help cultural organizations and artists by allocating $10 million from the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund. The staff is verifying whether the money can be used to address business interruption costs, COVID-19 expenses and programming changes such as virtual programming between March 1 and December 30.
Additionally, Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommended fully renewing the $18 million in the county’s competitive grant funding for the coming fiscal year as part of $134 million culture and recreation portion of the budget.
Spring wrote, “These are very encouraging developments. In addition to healthy public investments, sustained private sector support and strategic budget downsizing also will be critically important for the survival of our cultural life.”
The county is also preparing to receive grant applications from local operations.
For arts organizations, by the middle of August, the county will have online guidelines and an application form available for the new Miami-Dade Arts Support grants program funded by the CARES Act. Organizations will be notified by the department of the maximum funding request amount available for their eligible expenses. The county is working to confirm that these funds can be used to address eligible business interruption costs, COVID-19 expenses, and programming adaptations such as virtual programming necessitated by the pandemic between March 1 and December 30.
For artists, by the middle of August, the department will activate the guidelines and application form on the Submittable online platform for requests by artists and artist-entrepreneurs. At this time, these funds will be available for artists of all disciplines and artist-entrepreneurs who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and have not already received support from the Miami-Dade Artists Support! (MAS!) Program. More information will be made available.