Pandemic drama

Austin creative sector closes the curtain on 28,852 jobs due to COVID-19 economy

Austin creative sector closes curtain on 28,852 jobs due to COVID-19

Ballet Austin presents Giselle
Organizations like the Ballet Austin have been hard hit. Photo by Tony Spielberg

Cue the sad violin solo. From April through July, the pandemic hammered Austin's creative sector to the tune of 28,852 jobs and $1.26 billion in sales, a new report shows.

The report, which examines the economic impact of COVID-19, was published August 11 by the Brookings Institution think tank. It estimates that during the four-month span from April 1 through July 31, Austin racked up a cumulative 32.6 percent loss of jobs and a cumulative 9.2 percent loss in sales connected to the creative sector. The sector includes fine arts, performing arts, music, film, fashion, and design.

According to the Texas Cultural Trust, 11.1 percent of the local workforce was employed in the creative sector in 2017.

As of August 2, spending on arts, entertainment, and recreation by consumers in the Austin area had fallen by more than 48 percent compared with January 2020, according to the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker. Overall, spending in Austin is actually up 2.4 percent, driven by more money spent in grocery stores and healthcare-related sectors.

Offering some relief is the City of Austin, which is allocating $3.5 million to fund the Austin Creative Worker Relief Grant. Local creative workers impacted by the pandemic can currently apply for a $2,000 grant.

Obviously, the city's creative sector isn’t alone. Here are the estimated cumulative losses for April through July in the state’s three other major metros:

  • Dallas-Fort Worth — 62,485 jobs (31.1 percent decline) and nearly $2.77 billion in sales (9.5 percent decline). According to the Texas Cultural Trust, 8.5 percent of the region’s workforce was employed in the creative sector in 2017.
  • Houston — 42,587 jobs (32.5 percent loss) and nearly $1.6 billion in sales (10.6 percent loss). The trust says 7.6 percent of the Houston area’s workforce was employed in the creative sector in 2017.
  • San Antonio — 15,639 (32.8 percent decline) and $552 million in sales (11 percent). Texas Cultural Trust notes 6 percent of the region’s workforce was employed in the creative sector in 2017.

Among Texas metro areas, San Antonio experienced the biggest percentage drops in both jobs and sales during the four-month period covered by the report.

“The creative economy — which is so critical to our overall economy, our society, and our culture — is under grave threat from the COVID-19 crisis,” the report says. “Imagine our cities and communities devoid of arts and culture, with no concerts, no theaters, and no art galleries. For the creative economy to survive and thrive again, a broad-based recovery strategy is needed.”