Utah’s arts are ‘poised for a strong recovery’ after COVID-19, leaders say

Utah lost more than 25,000 arts and entertainment jobs during the past year, as the sector lost $76.5 million in revenue, a new report says.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune File photo) Students file into Abravanel Hall to hear the Utah Symphony for their annual school concert in February 2020. Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson spoke Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2021, at a news conference about the state of Utah's arts and culture industry about his appreciation for the Utah Symphony.

The coronavirus pandemic has been “particularly tough” on Utah’s arts and entertainment industry, but “we are poised for a strong recovery” in coming years, according to Cameron Diehl, executive director of Utah League of Cities and Towns.

COVID-19 caused a loss of $76.5 million in revenue and 25,303 jobs for arts and cultural groups in the state, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Utah Cultural Alliance and other organizations. Diehl and others spoke at a news conference about the report and the current state of the arts in Utah.

While these numbers are “dire,” said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, Utah Cultural Alliance’s executive director, the industry is “doing much better than we could have been,” thanks to support from the governor, the state Department of Health and the state Legislature, which appropriated millions of dollars in federal CARES Act last year to the arts.

Going forward, “we need significant investment to make up for some of this loss,” Young-Otterstrom said. The $6 million for the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts’ sustainability grant program in Gov. Spencer Cox’s budget this year “would be a big step,” she said.

“As cases drop and vaccines get out there, being able to lift some of those restrictions that allow us to come back ... will help a lot of our businesses, as well,” Young-Otterstrom said.

And SB202, from Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, promises to make a difference, she said, through a grant program for small businesses that continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 health emergency.

Senate President Stuart Adams also pointed to a second round of Paycheck Protection Protection, or PPP, loans recently approved by Congress to help small businesses.

Before the pandemic, the arts and entertainment sector employed 155,551 Utahns and added $7.2 billion to the state’s economy, according to the report, citing figures from 2018, the most recent year with data available. The industry grew that year by 4%, and it generated $4.8 billion in gross earnings and $15.2 billion in gross sales, the report shows.

The arts provide a “financial value” to Utah, but it’s also about “those shared experiences” that people have missed over the last year, Diehl said.

“I don’t actually think that I would be married to my wife it it wasn’t for the Utah Symphony,” said Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson. “... That’s a true story.”

Wilson didn’t go into details, but he said couples reach a point while dating where you’re trying to decide, are we going to get more serious as a couple or not?”

The pivotal moment in my relationship with Jeni as we were dating occurred at the Utah Symphony,” he said. And in the years since, Wilson said, he and his family have made “some great memories” of going to cultural events in the state.

I’ve really missed a lot of the things that we’ve been able to do in the past, over the last year,” Wilson said, “and it can’t get here soon enough when we can start doing these things again.”