An industry that depends upon having an audience, arts and culture organizations have been hit particularly hard by the community effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, those in this industry are known for their creativity and are already finding ways to adapt and continue to serve Nevadans. Recently, arts and culture executives came together for a virtual roundtable hosted by Nevada Business Magazine and sponsored by City National Bank.
Connie Brennan, publisher and CEO of the magazine, served as moderator for the virtual event. The magazine’s monthly roundtables bring together industry leaders to discuss relevant issues and solutions.
Are the Arts Considered Critical in Nevada?
Brenda Scolari: An ongoing challenge is to make art a part of the conversation when discussing the health of any destination. Travel Nevada plans to make the Nevada Arts Council an integral part of our destination development plan for smaller communities. We feel the artist expression of what makes a place special also helps define and distinguish that destination for travelers and enhances the quality of life for residents. Then, of course, our state museums are always a consideration as we market the state because our Western heritage and historic preservation is one of the assets that sets us apart in the travel space, especially among other western states.
Tony Manfredi: [The arts] generate revenue and it matters. It culturally transforms our lives and makes us enjoy and live our lives to the fullest. I’m looking at this time as an opportunity for us to get people to understand what we are missing. Right now, we are not able to go to a museum, a theater or a performance. We’re not able to go and experience these things together. We have an opportunity to see how a world without the arts might look. Some interesting [Americans for the Arts] data: 76 percent of Nevada adults have attended an arts and culture event, 73 percent say they help them understand other cultures better; 70 percent believe that the arts make them more creative; 75 percent believe the arts help students perform better academically; 62 percent believe that the arts improve healing and healthcare experience; 49 percent agree that the arts are helpful to military personnel transitioning back into civilian life from a creativity standpoint; 70 percent say that the more creative and innovative they are in their job either individual or as a team, the more successful they are in the workplace; and 61 percent say that the arts require them to be creative either individual or as a team and they come up with ideas that are new or unique. [In addition,] 72 percent believe that the arts are good for the economy in supporting jobs; 73 percent believe the arts have social impact improving the quality and live-ability of their community and 85 percent of adults are in agreement that the arts are good for attracting travelers and good for tourism. That’s what [people] believe, but I think it’s interesting to see how that translate into action. Attendance is one thing but donations, contributions and the value that is put [on arts] when placed side by side with other industries is more of the question.
Lacey Huszcza: One of the biggest challenges we have for arts and culture in Nevada is our own organizational, and possibly community, mindsets. One of the things that is talked about a lot, particularly in Las Vegas, is that we are an entertainment city. I don’t know Reno well, but it seems quite similar in that aspect. We focus a lot on entertainment, gaming and tourism. [We need to] change the script internally for our organizations and within our communities to focus on what we are doing for our city through arts and culture and the power that brings to building community. That is the challenge and the opportunity.
Melissa Kaiser: I’ve met a lot of people who just don’t realize we have a philharmonic, a ballet and museum access, even in our own community. From a major donor standpoint, I think there’s a lot of awareness of the non-profit sector for social services here and the value [of those], but less so of the value of the arts as a non-profit sector. I don’t know if that’s the transient nature of the town or if we are just so new at the arts and culture community here in Las Vegas. I’ve found the major gift arena very small. The need to educate about the value [of arts] and to train the next generation of donors of that value for our community is one of our most pressing needs.
Rob McCoy: People in Las Vegas are so focused and busy making money, opening businesses and striving to do everything they can for their families, but they really don’t take the time to enjoy arts and culture. They come into town, do what they’ve got to do and, a lot of times, leave town after they have made their money.
Jonathan Ullman: [We should] cut ourselves a little bit of slack with how young the arts and culture scene is here, relative to other parts of the world. One of the things we haven’t seen yet, that other [regions of the country] benefit from are the success stories. New York, for example. There are people that were inspired by the American Museum of Natural History, they see the dinosaur skeletons, experience the different exhibits as a young person and it inspires people to pursue different types of careers or get involved in the arts. Many of our institutions are not yet there. As a member of this community, I think that is a pivot point. You also don’t get to that level of belief of how important these institutions are, and the commitment in a philanthropic sense, without also having these kind of success stories and people being able to reflect on how they shaped their individual growth over time.
What Kind of Economic Impact does the Arts have?
Manfredi: The U.S. Bureau Economic Analysis came out with their 2017 data, which is their latest. Arts and culture’s value in Nevada was $8.7 billion, 5.5 percent of Nevada’s GDP and contributed to over 40,900 jobs. [The industry is] second among companies and sectors in Nevada, below retail and above construction, transportation, mining, utilities and education services. Of that $8 billion, about $2 billion is arts and culture production and over $6 billion is the support structure that goes with it, all of the businesses and organizations who support all that work. Another survey was done to assess where we are as an industry right now. We’re looking at 97 percent of Nevada organizations that have canceled events, this is the data as of May 1. That’s 621,617 total number of lost attendees. You can imagine how that translates into economic influx into our organizations.
McCoy: Just to give you a little example of what he’s talking about there, the Neon Museum has 60 employees and we have an overall economic impact in downtown Las Vegas, of about $9 million annually. We are a draw for Downtown Las Vegas and 74 percent of our visitors are staying on the Strip if they are not staying Downtown. That just gives you a little taste of the economic impact of just one entity.
David Walker: If you look at the balance sheet, we’re a $60 million business. We hire between 70 and 80 employees. We had an economic impact study done two years ago and it showed that we contributed $17 million to the local community, to the economy itself. We were also a recipient of $5 million in the state of Nevada last year, towards expansion efforts that we’re putting forth right now. What makes this period different from 10 years ago is a great willingness for us all to work together and collaborate.
When do you Expect to be Opening Again?
Beth Barbre: We are all trying to connect virtually during this unattended intermission, but what is going to happen when we actually can go back on the stage? How do we keep those new audience numbers intact? The Smith’s Center has been in Las Vegas almost 15 years and it has dramatically changed arts and culture. People have gotten used to going there and it’s our hope that when the venue is able to reopen in some form or fashion people will be hungry to go back. When that’s going to occur, we don’t know. We’ve been around almost 50 years and we certainly plan to be here for another 50 years. We’re looking at all options. So, we have started to see things go into the fall, but we again are planning on having a fall performance, of course the Nutcracker, and beyond.
Tim Young: We’re looking very closely at the governor’s phases. Phase one and two are relativity straight forward for us and they provide a nice parameter on what we can do. In phase one we will be completely virtual but, perhaps, sending individuals or very small groups to people’s homes to do very small community concerts. When we get to phase two, we’ll be looking at doing gatherings of 50. Then [we’ll be] considering what musicians are willing to do, how we can protect musicians and the space and then providing protection for the audience members. When we get to phase three, that’s the most awkward one because it is so vaguely presented in the language so far. There’s the possibility that we’ll be sitting in phase three for a considerable length of time; we just are not sure what we’ll be able to accomplish there. It’s very difficult for building budgets around. How far out should we be planning to hold on until we return to something where we can expect some normal ticketed revenue?
McCoy: [We plan on] opening the museum on May 22nd, about a week after phase one. We have a big advantage, we’re an outdoors museum, so there’s lots of social distancing and we’ll be able to stick to the protocol as laid out by the CDC. We’ve had to put everything on pause. We have no revenue stream currently coming in and we don’t know how quickly tourism is going to return, our museum [attendance] is 90 percent tourist. Only 10 percent of our locals actually attend the Neon Museum, so our wagon is hitched to the Las Vegas Strip and to Downtown Las Vegas. That’s a significant concern moving forward, but we will open on May 22nd and it’s going to be really interesting to see how this evolves.
Mat Sinclair: We’re a hands on, interactive environment, not what you would like to hear during a pandemic. We’ve been hard at work trying to figure out how to change visitor experiences, how we radically alter our cleaning schedule and all those sorts of things. [There are] lots of technical elements to reopen and that’s important work. The bigger question, the one that we just don’t know and the largest barrier I think in all of our lives, has to do with visitor intentions and guest/consumer confidence and the products that we’re offering. Just because the governor, health department and our policies are all saying, “Here’s what we can do and how we can operate safely,” it doesn’t matter if 70 percent of American’s still think we shouldn’t be doing x,y, or z. That’s the biggest variable for all of us, to try and plan for and navigate being ready and able to operate, but fully understanding that those customers may not be there for a while.
Alexander Van Alstyne: We moved our production, Little Mermaid, to the fall and we’re hoping to be able to do it. We’re on hold with everything that’s going on. We have a production coming up in July with Artown but we’re still in the open water waiting to find out what’s going on with these venues. We don’t really know what’s going to happen at this point, but we rehearsed for six weeks to get the production ready and it got shut down, so we moved it with the Philharmonic. We’ll see what happens.
Valerie Serpa: We obviously had to cancel/postpone several of our performances beginning in March, because of everything that was happening. For the 2021 season, which starts in September we are hopeful, we have to see what’s going to happen. We want to maintain our relationship with the artists who are enthused about coming, try to book things and get back to work but wondering about the possible hesitancy of audience members to start congregating again. The outdoor events are one thing but in an interior space and managing how that works [is a challenge]. We’re just looking at everything that comes out obviously and trying to anticipate how to deal with it when it comes, whatever comes.
Huszcza: We are hanging on tightly to the hope of starting our season, as planned, in October. I feel a little bit fortunate for our opening plan for the middle of October. That gives us a little bit more time to get through some of these things and make it happen. We had a three-day event festival planned to open our season and it will depend upon being back in the concert hall. In the meantime, we’re doing a lot of planning and efforts to do things digitally in smaller groups, outdoors, finding ways we can still connect. One of the things that gives me hope with all of this, and the one potentially positive outcome of getting through this pandemic together, is that it’s a great opportunity to show our community that the arts are truly essential to their lives. If you think about what [people are] doing right now, stuck in their homes, they’re sad, upset, scared and they are turning to art and music. People are dancing in their kitchens, playing porch concerts and connecting together through the power of the arts to help them get through is emotionally. That gives me really great hope for coming out of this together as a city and probably even stronger.