The return of the arts won’t be so much a sprint as a long-distance race.
“Recovery will take a very long time. We don’t want to be a downer. We just don’t want irrational exuberance over these expectations for the sector,” said Maureen Sager executive director of the Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy (ACE).
The organization recently released a report concerning job loss in the performing arts sector, as well as the food/drink and film and recording sectors.
“Creative industries sectors suffered some of the highest percentage of job loss in New York’s Capital Region by the end of summer, according to new statistics from the New York Department of Labor. In the third quarter, the Performing Arts and Spectator Sports sector saw a 64% decline in jobs over the year — the highest percentage lost out of any other sector in the eight-county region,” reads the report.
Over the year last, The Gazette along with other local media outlets have reported on how performing arts centers and venues around the Capital Region have laid off staff members because of the pandemic. Proctors furloughed 80% of its workforce last March, leaving just 32 full-time employees. The Palace has laid off several staff members, as has The Egg and others.
While Sager has heard many stories and anecdotes from people who have lost their jobs, seeing the data from the Department of Labor was bone-chilling.
“My stomach just fell when I saw the size of those losses and yet I knew people who were cut off from their work. So I think the data has always made the creative economy very real. We all know it’s around us but until we had the data we never were able to show the size of it. So that was the great promise of having this data to help us articulate the creative economy. Unfortunately, it does the same thing [in] articulating the amount of loss right now,” Sager said.
Beyond the performing arts, the motion picture and sound recording industry reported 59% job loss, the second-highest percentage of jobs lost in the region, according to ACE.
That directly impacted people like film director/producer Michelle Polacinski, who had a full-time salary job at Branch VFX, a visual effects production company in Albany before it shut down permanently in June, according to ACE.
“The film industry completely shut down for longer than many other industries, so it’s been especially hard for us,” Polacinski said in the report. “I have since returned to freelance work out of necessity, but I only get about one gig a month if I’m lucky, which is never enough to pay the bills. It’s also harder having to commute to New York City or drive for hours in other directions just to work.”
To get a better understanding of how the pandemic is impacting people in the Capital Region’s creative economy, ACE recently created a survey with questions about income changes, financial security, etc.
“I think that the data doesn’t tell you everything. When someone has job loss, does that mean that it affected a partial amount of their income? How did it affect freelancers? Those are the kinds of things you can’t tell from those big aggregate numbers. We were trying to get an idea of how it affected individuals here,” Sager said.
The survey, which is available at upstatecreative.org, will be up through next week. As more data is released in the coming months, it will be easier to tell the full story of what’s happened to the creative economy during the pandemic.
“The hope is that people understand that there’s going to be a lot of pain for a long time,” Sager said, “. . . understanding that just because we’re starting to reopen doesn’t mean that everybody’s back to work.”