David and Art - The Art World at the Moment

Jul 20, 2020

With their doors shut, concert halls and art museums leave a big hole in the cultural landscape.  Here is David Smith with this weeks edition of David and Art.

The reports from the art world are not very rosy.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, arts institutions, like so many other places, are feeling the strains.  Some art museums have cautiously opened back up, but some other, major ones are waiting.  The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC for instance is still closed, although it recently opened its outdoor sculpture garden on a limited basis.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has announced that it’s not planning to open its doors until August 29.

Largely because of these ongoing closures, arts institutions—which, even in the best of times aren’t exactly flush with cash—are feeling it in the bottom line.  With their doors closed until who knows

when, museums are continuing to lose revenue not only from evaporating admissions, but also from retail sales in their gift shops, their restaurants, and from renting space for special events.  (Remember that when you buy an exhibit catalog in its store, and a coffee, or glass of wine in its café, you’re supporting the operations of a museum.)  The grand Philadelphia Museum of Art has announced that its going to have to cut more than 100 jobs from its staff by the way of furloughs, voluntary departures, and possibly layoffs.  More than 50 currently vacant positions will not be filled. 

Down the street from the National Gallery, the Kennedy Center is experiencing not only the challenges facing museums but all the troubles that confront the performing arts across the country.  Unlike museums, performing arts venues depend on big crowds sitting together at fixed times.  It’s had to cancel almost all musical, dance, and theatrical events for the rest of 2020, including a much-anticipated return engagement for Hamilton.  All the various cancellations for the rest of the year will cost the Kennedy center $45.7 million in lost ticket sales and other revenue, bringing its total losses to more than $90 million. 

At the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, costs are being cut as well.  Effective July 6, administrative salaries will be cut between 2.5% and 12.5%.  Calling the moves “a very difficult decision,” president and CEO Kim Noltemy will take a 25% pay cut. Sixteen staff positions will be furloughed.  The cuts do not affect the musicians.

Daniel Weiss, President of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, recently said his institution serves as “a reminder of the power of the human spirit and the capacity of art to bring comfort.”  He was partially right:  ALL art venues do that and the sooner they are able to safely open, the sooner the public can feel that comfort they bring.  Until then our cultural life is incomplete.