COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Devastate Local Creative Economy

Despite wider economic gains, arts institutions aren’t making up lost ground.

CLEVELAND (September 21, 2021) – After more than 15 months, 65 Cuyahoga County-based arts and culture nonprofits funded by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture continue to report layoffs as organizations operate with less capacity. Federal funding is helping to make up some lost revenues and helping groups to adapt programming and connect with residents. But overall, the pandemic continues to negatively impact the creative economy and community quality of life.

According to a survey of 65 General Operating Support grant recipients, steady job loss and revenue loss has continued in 2021. The organizations reported 1,636 total people laid off, furloughed or with reduced hours between January and June 2021.

Revenue loss has slowed in the first six months of 2021, the groups report, but this trend may change with the recent uptick in delta variant cases. From January to June 2021, organizations lost $27,023,358 in earned and contributed revenue (ticket sales, admissions, donations, etc.). If revenue loss continues at the current rate, 2021 losses will be at least half as much as in 2020 – ensuring a second year of significantly reduced revenues. 

From March 2020, when the 65 CAC-funded organizations began tracking, through June 30, 2021, the organizations reported:

  • Total people laid off, furloughed, or hours reduced: 4,793
  • Total revenue loss: $146,025,012  
  • Total federal funds (CARES Act, Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, etc.) received: $81,294,617 
  • Total revenue loss not recouped: $64,730,395
“The hard truth is that the creative economy will be one of the last to recover from the pandemic,” said Jill M. Paulsen, executive director of CAC. “Ohio’s creative industry continues to suffer from the highest unemployment rate among all sectors. CAC has accelerated payment of our grants and worked with Cuyahoga County to secure CARES Act funding, but it may not be enough for some organizations,” she said.

“We are grateful for the flexibility and creativity CAC-funded organizations have shown so they can continue to be in service of residents. Over 14,000 events or activities were shifted to be online, with lower capacity, or altered with some other precautions. The dedication of these organizations to serve their communities despite the hardest of circumstances is truly impressive,” Paulsen said.

In addition to General Operating Support and Project Support grant programs, CAC invested in support for artists and resident-led arts and cultural projects in 2021.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, artists and neighbors have used CAC funding to respond creatively to challenges, inspire, and give hope. Specifically:

  • CAC funded more than 26 arts and culture projects led by Cuyahoga County residents during the pandemic through ioby’s (in our backyards) CAC Match Fund in 2021. CAC granted $70,000 to provide dollar-for-dollar matching up to $3,000 for creative crowdfunding projects led by neighbors. While projects were not required to respond specifically to COVID-19, many leveraged funds to provide safe programming or respond to pandemic-specific challenges in our communities.
  • CAC funded 14 arts and culture projects directly related to the impact of COVID-19 through Neighborhood Connections’ 2021 COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants, with a total investment of $24,459 in matching funds.
  • In 2021, CAC invested in 10 collaborative “civic practice” projects between Cuyahoga County artists and nonprofits who were trained in a shared approach through the Learning Lab program by Center for Performance and Civic Practice. Many of the resulting projects responded directly to nonprofit or community needs during the evolving pandemic.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is one of the largest public funders for arts and culture in the nation, helping hundreds of organizations in Cuyahoga County connect millions of people to cultural experiences each year. Since 2006, CAC has invested more than $207 million in 436 organizations both large and small, making our community a more vibrant place to live, work and play. For more information, visit

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