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‘We are the recovery; we are essential’: Nevada County Arts Council survey reveals artists, art organizations are struggling

Sam Corey
Staff Writer


The Union continues its “Investigating the Impact” series to discuss how the community is coping with the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on the toll the pandemic has had on the economy, government services, health care, nonprofits, arts &culture, education and housing, and the situation each sector faces and what resources are available to help the community move forward.

Visit TheUnion.com for more in the series.


Resources gathered by the Nevada County Arts Council


Both in and outside of Nevada County, local arts organizations have been working to bring themselves to the table on topics like education, government and the economy.

Helping three cities in the county receive two of the state’s 15 designated cultural districts, and collaborating locally with the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, the Nevada County Economic Resource Council and more, the Nevada County Arts Council specifically has tried to prove the value of the arts, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

In recent years, the Arts Council has produced reports demonstrating the arts importance to education and to the economy — as a $46.9 million number, representing total economic activity the arts generate locally, is frequently cited.

But like most other areas of public and private life in the post-pandemic world, an early impact survey by the Arts Council reveals that the local arts industry is hurting.

Including responses from 257 people and organizations, the survey that opened March 28 and closed April 18 displays an early estimate that up to $10 million of total financial losses have already accumulated in the sector.

The lost revenue has been “very severe” for 30% of responders, and lost revenue and income totaling about $35,000 for 16% of responders. Much of the lost money comes from lost opportunities, as 94% of responders said they had work delayed or canceled and 66% of organizations said they had events canceled due to the pandemic.

One responding performing arts organization in eastern Nevada County, according to the Arts Council’s executive director Eliza Tudor, reported that after operating for more than four decades, it will likely close its doors due in part from Assembly Bill 5, which changed the nature of contract work, and the pandemic.

But notably, Tudor said the survey was not only meant to reveal bad news.

“It also provides us valuable insight, in terms of where help is most needed, and where innovation is occurring,” she said. “We need this information in order to better support the field.”

The bulk of survey responders, 65%, were independent artists, 18% come from arts organizations, and the rest hail from either non-arts organizations, teaching contractors, administrators or employees of arts organizations. Many of the responders are among vulnerable groups, including 18% who are medically uninsured or underinsured, 19% living with a disability and 68% who are seniors over the age of 64.

Now put in a more precarious situation due to the pandemic, Tudor, and other artists, believe that with less arts money circulating the county, everyone is at a loss. The Center for the Arts Executive Director Amber Jo Manuel echoed this point on a Wednesday Zoom call organized by the Arts Council, and intended to galvanize the arts community.

“We are the recovery,” said Manuel. “We are essential.”


Laddering up from the local level, the hit to the arts community doesn’t appear much better. According to the Americans for the Arts, arts nonprofit organizations across the country lost a full $4.5 billion as of April 6. As of late March in California, arts organizations had lost an average of $193,642 and individual artists on average had lost $23,857, according to the California Arts Council.

The lost revenue won’t necessarily return quickly because, as Tudor explained, the creative sector is often the last to gain support during periods of economic hardship.

“In terms of government support, it’s the most extraordinary blindspot,” she said. “Few others have to justify their sectors more in order to gain the attention of those who have it in their power to invest in an industry which is proven to drive the economy.”

Wednesday’s call with the local arts community was meant to help artists recognize their creative and economic powers, especially during economic downturns. The call’s lead speaker, Sierra Business Council’s Vice President of Business Innovation Kristin York, gave examples of both popular towns — like Austin, Texas — and lesser-known areas like Decorah, Iowa and parts of rural Appalachia — that lead with the arts as a means of stimulating the economy.

Many artists on the call, including Nevada City resident and painter Ron Kenedi, spoke of the importance of extending themselves to different aspects of the local community in order to illuminate their significance.

“We can’t just appeal to the same people, we have to spread that out,” said Kenedi. “We’re not a mining community, or a logging community … we’re an entertainment community.”

Local artists are trying to seize this moment as an opportunity, having conversations online about their work and helping to create Rebound Nevada County, which recruited a team of local artists to beautify city buildings and also to include artist perspectives in an e-commerce business course in partnership with Sierra Commons.

Tudor herself hopes the sector will expand the diversity of its revenue streams from both private philanthropists and various government institutions.

“A healthy ecosystem contains support from multiple sectors,” Tudor said. “And most developing communities recognize this not as simply charity, but serious investment that then supports and drives the economy more broadly.”


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Coronavirus Guidance for Businesses/Employers

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To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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