No CARES Act payday ahead for Cache Valley arts groups

A revival of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre was among nearly 1,150 events and performances cancelled since mid-March due to the coronavirus, according to a survey by the Utah Cultural Alliance.

SALT LAKE CITY – As details emerge from Senate Bill 5010, it appears increasingly unlikely that the statute enacted during last week’s special session of the Legislature will result in any CARES Act payday for Cache Valley performing arts groups.

“The grant program that SB5010 creates is very narrow in scope,” according to Wendi Hassan, the executive director of the Cache Valley Center for the Arts. “I’m grateful that the Legislature appreciates the importance of our sector and recognizes the disproportionate (economic) hit that we have taken … But I’m definitely not getting my hopes up for any windfall from SB5010.”

The money for the new state grant program will come from the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act, which are being administered at state level. The CARES Act was passed by Congress in late March to mitigate the public health and economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The COVID-19 Economic Recovery Program enacted June 18 earmarks $62 million in federal funds to benefit arts groups, higher education, business and other public/non-profit entities.

But only $9 million of that amount is being allocated to cultural arts groups, according to Crystal Young Otterstrom of the Utah Cultural Alliance. The remaining funds will be distributed in business grants ($25 million), promotion of tourism ($12 million), retraining programs for displaced workers ($9 million), acquisition of protective equipment required to reopen businesses ($5 million), multicultural grants ($1 million) and outreach efforts to promote compliance with statewide COVID-19 guidelines ($1 million).

Under the new law’s grant eligibility guidelines, only cultural arts groups with annual operating budgets of $5 million may apply if they plan to stage a performance or event that will attract tourists not later than Dec. 30, 2020.

That deadline excludes the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre and the Lyric Repertory Company, since their seasons cannot resume prior to the summer of 2021. Other local performing arts programs are still uncertain when they can successfully resume productions under Utah’s social distancing and public gathering guidelines.

Hassan said she believes that Utah’s performing arts community has been harder hit by the pandemic than any other business sector, with the exception perhaps of the hotel industry. Recent survey results on the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown suggests that the state’s $9 million grant program is a drop in the bucket compared to Utah’s cultural arts revenue losses.

Since mid-April, the Utah Cultural Alliance has been keeping tabs on the economic impact of the coronavirus on the state’s cultural and artistic programs. So far, UCA has received nearly 650 responses to its polling efforts, including 48 from individuals or organizations in Cache County.

The survey indicates nearly 1,150 cultural events or performances have been cancelled or postponed statewide since mid-March, resulting in more than $1.3 million in ticket refunds. Survey respondents also reported more than $7.5 million in unanticipated expenses related to COVID-19. Overall, the statewide loss of non-admissions income is estimated at more than $18.5 million and lost admissions revenue is projected at more than $36.8 million for a total loss of more than $55 million.

Nearly 50 percent of the organizations responding to the UCA survey reported the coronavirus pandemic would likely force them to lower wages or lay-off employees. They estimated that more than 3,600 of their jobs were in jeopardy and that about a third of those employees have already been let go.

The only bright spot for Utah’s arts community in that otherwise bleak economic picture, according to Hassan, is that the passage of SB5010 seems to indicate “a willingness at the Legislature to more robustly fund the general operating support grants in future years.”



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