We can’t let coronavirus wreck Dallas’ arts and culture scene

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Cultural institutions contribute to a city’s health, economically and spiritually.

Dallas Morning News Editorial

We’ve seen a lot of sobering sights during this pandemic, and a drive through the Dallas Arts District is yet another to add to the list.

The bustle of cultural activity that philanthropists and city leaders spent decades building has all but shut down. Museums, theaters and arts centers have been closed since March, with dozens of events and performances canceled to keep patrons and employees safe.

The recent announcement that the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is laying off 168 part-time and full-time employees, including some executives, is a clear sign that important cultural institutions in Dallas and North Texas are in trouble.

We worry because we know they face uncertainty for months to come. Who knows when people will feel safe to gather again at a show? On the other side of this, we will need these institutions more than ever. So it behooves us to find ways to make sure they survive.

This is about more than missing artists or exhibits. Cultural institutions contribute to a city’s health, economically and spiritually.

In Dallas, one 2015 study showed that nonprofit cultural and arts organizations accounted for more than 33,000 jobs and helped generate $45 million in revenue for the local economy.

What’s more, cultural institutions — big and small — build strong community connections, educational opportunities and improved quality of life.

The city of Dallas invests in our cultural institutions because of their importance. This fiscal year, the Office of Cultural Affairs’ budget was nearly $21 million.

The Perot, for example, gets about $750,000 a year from the city because it helps educate so many of our young people. But school closures and a prohibition on group events made its cost structure unsustainable and forced layoffs, leaders there said.

From the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to the AT&T Performing Arts Center to smaller arts groups like the Dallas Black Dance Theater, our city has wonderful, and threatened, cultural institutions. Though Gov. Greg Abbott has announced a partial reopening of the economy, none of the major museums are yet open here.

City Hall can’t come to the rescue, not with looming shortfalls. Philanthropy can, and must, step forward to help. But creative solutions are also needed to bridge the gap. Some cities, like Phoenix, have approved using federal coronavirus relief funding to help artists and nonprofit arts and culture organizations. Other cities have used community block grants to support the arts.

We encourage all who support these institutions to remember the arts will need a lot of help coming out of this pandemic as well. And, as always, we will need the arts.

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