Frank Cullen
Former Vice President, U.S. Intellectual Property Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


January 21, 2021


Not even a pandemic can diminish the importance of the arts and entertainment industries – in fact, Americans have doubled down on their cultural consumption across the board.

We’re bingeing movies and television shows that speak to our COVID-19 experience, – like Songbird and “Zoom episodes” of Parks and Rec and 30 Rock – we’re singing along to songs released over social media rather than from the studio, – like Luke Combs’ Six Feet Apart – and we’re supporting our local theater companies at the drive-in or on the couch – like when City Theatre in Pittsburgh turned a parking lot into a stage for 12 nights of comedy, music, and dance. 

In January, the U.S. Chamber hosted, Starring Role: Arts & Entertainment in the Pandemic Era to illustrate how the arts and entertainment industries have kept us connected, informed, and entertained: no easy task within the parameters of social isolation. And not an insignificant task, either.

The Impact: Research shows that in the United States, 673,656 businesses are involved in the creation and distribution of the arts, and these businesses employ nearly 3.5 million people. That’s 4.01 percent of all U.S. businesses and 2.04 percent of all U.S. employees.

Yes, but: These businesses and people have been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis.

  • They’re out of work: 99% of producing and presenting organizations have been forced to cancel events, often the lifeblood of their success. 59% of them remain closed for business, and 39% of those have no target date for re-opening.
  • They’re losing money: Financial losses within the industries total an estimated $14.8 billion to date. The total economic impact of organizational and audience-spending losses is $5.1 billion. At the individual creator level, 95% of individual creators have reported loss of income.
  • They’re cutting jobs: At least 879,000 creative industry jobs have been lost to the pandemic. According to recent survey data, 35% of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have been forced to lay off or furlough staff, and 63% of individual creators have become fully unemployed.
  • They fear for the future: More than 12,000 arts and entertainment organizations don’t think their businesses will survive the pandemic.

Who’s Speaking Up: Representatives of the arts and entertainment industries are educating key stakeholders on these harsh realities, and they’re providing concrete steps lawmakers, regulators, and other stakeholders can take to help.

  • Public Meetings: This week, the U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center joined forces with Americans for the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the National Endowment for the Arts for a virtual event to increase awareness around the economic and societal impact made by the arts and entertainment sectors, and the challenges and opportunities they face in the pandemic era.
  • Letters to Congress: The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives implored Congressional leaders to allocate at least $6 billion to provide direct economic relief for non-profit museums and performing arts centers.
  • Federal Proposals: There are currently more than 2,200 endorsements of a federal proposal to activate the creative economy within a comprehensive national recovery strategy. The proposal offers 16 specific initiatives that can be achieved through executive action and/or without authorizing substantial additional federal funding. For example, the federal government can use executive action to advance direct employment of creative workers within federal agencies; direct federal departments to commission artists and community arts organizations; and complete the launch of an ArtistCorps within AmeriCorps.

Already, this work is moving the needle toward a healthier creative community, and in effect, a healthier American culture and society. That’s something we can all applaud.

About the authors

Frank Cullen

Frank Cullen is former Vice President of U.S. Intellectual Property Policy.