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Utah's cultural industry battered by pandemic, but slowly bouncing back

Posted at 5:40 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 19:40:13-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The pandemic's second hardest hit industry is bouncing back, but it will be a while before it reaches pre-COVID levels. A new economic impact report shows how hard the cultural industry was hit in 2020 and how the industry is making a comeback.

On Utah's Capitol Hill, leaders in the cultural industry shared new numbers that show the economic impact to the industry since the pandemic. We are seeing recovery so far in this new year, but are not out of the woods yet.

“We have the longest runway to recovery of any industry and continue to suffer from cancellations due to omicron. However, Utah’s cultural industry has survived this period better than other states,” said Vicki Panella Bourns, Director of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.

The pandemic has changed everything and hurt everyone.

“Of course, 2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and I think for many of us, a large part was not being able to experience the power of art in person,” said Matt Castillo, Salt Lake County Arts & Culture.

But it has posed an impressive set of challenges to the cultural industry.

“We are still hurting, we have a long runway to recover, but we didn’t lose anybody,” said Crystal Young, Executive Director of the Utah Cultural Alliance.

Matt Castillo manages Salt Lake County’s five flagship art centers. Prior to the pandemic, those venues saw close to a million people annually.

"We pivoted to in person in 2021, but we’re still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels," said Castillo. “However, it’s still a very challenging time for the arts and culture industry with cancellations for COVID spread among cast and crew, having to regularly reschedule works, and quickly pivot due to changes in guidelines.”

In 2020, the Utah arts, cultural and entertainment industry produced $17.8 billion in total sales, which accounts for 9% of Utah’s 2020 GDP. In 2019, it was $19.3 billion and made up 9.9 percent of the GDP.

“Those aren’t the numbers we want," said Utah Senate President Stuart Adams. "We’d always like to see growth, but those are good numbers because of what we’ve done to try to maintain our cultural arts during the pandemic.”

The industry supported an estimated 108,560 total jobs in 2020; meaning that one in 12 Utah jobs was directly or indirectly attributed to the cultural sector.

The industry is still about 3% off the mark, but as it makes our way out of the pandemic, leaders are optimistic it get back to normal with Utahns able to enjoy something that brings everyone together again.

“I hope that as we turn the page soon on this difficult time we’ve been in that we can double down and tend to our souls and immerse ourselves in the arts,” said House Speaker Brad Wilson.