Pandemic drama

Houston creative sector closes the curtain on 42,600 jobs, says report

Houston creative sector closes the curtain on 42,600 jobs, says report

Houston Ballet principals Connor Walsh as Price Florimund and Yuriko Kajiya as Princess Aurora in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty
Organizations like the Houston Ballet have been hard hit. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet

Cue the sad violin solo. From April through July, the pandemic hammered Houston’s creative sector to the tune of about $1.6 billion in sales and 42,587 jobs, a new report shows.

The report, published August 11 by the Brookings Institution think tank, estimated that during the four-month span from April 1 through July 31, Houston racked up a cumulative 32.5 percent loss of jobs and a cumulative 10.6 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, 7.6 percent of the Houston area’s workforce was employed in the creative sector in 2017.

As of August 2, spending on arts, entertainment, and recreation by consumers in the Houston area had fallen by 51.3 percent compared with January 2020, according to the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker.

Unfortunately, this financial pain will last much longer than a famously lengthy Wagner opera.

“It’s not as if there’s a guarantee that when this is all over that we can just press reset and we all come back with the ability to do the work we did before,” James Nelson, executive director of the Houston Ballet, told the Kinder Institute at Houston’s Rice University.

“What people may not understand, unless they’re closely connected with an arts nonprofit, is that it’s often a very delicate situation even in the best of times. We are not a profit-generating industry,” Nelson added. “To do what we do for our community is always a struggle. The ability to do that relies on a combination of earned revenue and contributed revenue, and that’s very tenuous even at the best of times.”

Offering some relief is the City of Houston, which approved $2 million in arts grants this week.

Obviously, Houston isn’t alone among Texas metro areas where the financial situation for the creative sector is tenuous. 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.
  • Austin — 28,852 jobs (32.6 percent decline) and $1.26 billion in sales (9.2 percent decline). According to the Texas Cultural Trust, 11.1 percent of the region’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). According to the Texas Cultural Trust, 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.”