I returned to Erie in September 2018 to lead Erie Arts & Culture, the regional arts council in northwest Pennsylvania and its creative and cultural sector. Since then, one of my topics of conversation has been highlighting what Erie has to offer in terms of arts, entertainment and recreation (AER). I am confident I can make the claim that our city has more AER facilities, facilities, attractions and events per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
Skeptical? Name another city with around 100,000 inhabitants that also has an art museum, a children’s museum, a maritime museum, a history museum, a philharmonic hall, a playhouse with more than 400 seats, a historical center for performing arts with more than 2,000 seats, an arena with more than 9,000 seats, a convention center, and so many community-centric festivals and live events in the summer that our activity calendar is overflowing. This is all made worse when you further consider the menu of options for engaging with the performing arts, whether through small and medium-sized organizations or through programs offered by local universities and colleges.
Our community’s relationship with AER institutions, bodies, facilities and events was drastically different in 2020 and 2021 than in previous years. Out of caution and to comply with government regulations, our favorite institutions were closed, the stages were dark and events were canceled. This has direct and serious implications for nonprofits, small businesses, employees, and individual artists who work to deliver creative and cultural experiences that add flavor to our region and add to our quality of life.
We are calculating the impact of the pandemic on our sector and therefore on Erie’s local economy. That effort began by interviewing Erie Arts & Culture’s five cultural service partners: the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Playhouse, the Experience Children’s Museum, the Flagship Niagara League, and the Hagen History Center. Between March and December 2020, these five organizations lost total revenue of $ 2,191,676. To survive, they accessed lines of credit totaling $ 1,465,092. We know that small and medium-sized businesses have also suffered significant financial losses.
The pandemic was also devastating for artists living and working in Erie – artists who rely on live events, festivals, and educational opportunities as part of their annual income. In 2020, Erie Arts & Culture launched a Emergency fund for creative and cultural professionals. Since the scholarship program began, we have provided more than $ 45,000 in support of 124 requests for assistance. The funds are used to cover basic living expenses such as rent and food.
Our AER assets and activities create and strengthen emotional bonds between people and place. They give the city and the district a clear comparative and competitive advantage when it comes to attracting new residents, visitors or investments. The value derived from the creative and cultural sectors should not be underestimated as we are both recovering from the pandemic and working to develop holistically in ways that are fair and inclusive.
If you appreciate the creative and cultural sector and what it offers in the form of arts, entertainment and recreation, I ask you to give your support to the organizations, companies and individuals that make up the sector this summer. This can take the form of buying tickets to events, making unrestricted donations to support the organizations you engage with, or buying artwork from an Erie-based artist. This can also consist of reaching out to your sphere of influence and asking them to consider helping the sector too. Strong support now will help our sector provide an opportunity for future generations to come together and share enriched experiences.
Patrick Fisher is the managing director of Erie Arts & Culture. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.