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Report shows impact of pandemic on Denver's arts scene

In the report's summary, it reads that the arts sector lost a decade of growth in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is hope.

DENVER — There's nothing quite like opening night for, say, an opera. 

But Saturday night inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts was different for Opera Colorado's production of 'Tosca.'

“This is the first live, in person, full length grand opera at the opera house in 20 months from Opera Colorado," shared Gregory Carpenter, the General and Artistic Director for Opera Colorado. “It’s amazing to think about what tonight means, it’s not just us back in the opera house doing what we love to do and giving our patrons the great art they love to participate in and watch. But it’s also about the nearly 200 members of our staff, artists, orchestra, chorus, everyone that’s involved in this production is back to work tonight.”

But for those staff members, 2020 was hard on them. 

"You know, some of our artists did get to do some video work like we did, some of our musicians continued to teach lessons. A lot of of the members of our orchestra teach so, you know, they were able to keep doing some of those things, certainly practicing keeping their talent at top notch, you might say. But the biggest share of them did not have a paycheck for that whole time," Carpenter said.

The arts sector in Denver took a huge hit during the pandemic in 2020, and a report out this week from the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) gives a closer look at that impact. 

But with shows back, those in the industry have a lot of optimism for the future. 

Credit: Foster Gaines
Inside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

A closer look at 2020

In the report's summary, it reads that the arts sector lost a decade of growth in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic after arts and cultural activity had been riding on momentum, breaking records for economic activity and impact. 

In 2019, the economic impact was $860 million, which was up 50% from 2017. In 2020, the impact was $435 million, a 49% decrease. 

The amount of jobs in 2019 was at 13,392, and it dropped to 9,688 in 2020. 

However, donations to the arts, or "giving to the arts" as listed in the report, was up 5.5% in 2020, compared to 2019. 

"Yeah, this report really gives us a glimpse into some pretty hard and staggering numbers of just how devastating and significant the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was on our arts, culture and scientific organizations here in the Denver metro area," said Meredith Badler, the Deputy Director for CBCA. "When you look particularly at the economic activity numbers, which was a pretty significant about 34% drop from 2019 to 2020, that's not just direct economics in the arts sector, but also the indirect ripple effect. So when we're not participating in arts and culture, we're not getting in our cars and putting gas in our cars or paying for parking or going out for dinner or paying a babysitter, paying an actor so that actor can buy their own groceries or buying framing materials for artworks at a local shop...the ripple effect is significant."

However, she adds that the feelings for the future now that shows are back, is hopeful. 

"Well, we're all feeling actually fairly hopeful. We really view this study as a call to action. We have already seen that in 2021, organizations have been so resilient, and I think that's one of the key messages of this report, just how strong our cultural sector is, that it will bounce back from this," she said. "And so we really hope that by sharing this data, it will actually provide that sense of of hope and encouragement and action to continue supporting the arts, donating to cultural organizations, attending exhibits, being a good patron and just really elevating their significance as an economic driver in our region."

Credit: Foster Gaines
Crew members prepare the stage for Opera Colorado's production of 'Tosca.'

The first show in 20 months

The prep work leading up to curtain call is an art form of its own, and that was especially true as crew members prepared the stage for Opera Colorado's production of "Tosca."

"You're changing a set in 10 minutes so that the curtain can come up on the next act, everything is timed," Carpenter said.

The pandemic shut shows down for the company for quite some time, meaning it also put a lot of people out of work, too. 

But opening night for the first time since March 2020 was Saturday night. 

"And that's why tonight is special, not just because we're back for our patrons, but we're back for those artists as well," Carpenter said. "All opening nights are exciting and particularly the opening night of the season like this, but there are many special things about tonight and it will be an emotional evening, no doubt for the audience as well as everybody that's been hard at work, getting ready to put this on."

Overall, he believes the future is bright, and that Saturday night's show kicks off that bright future. 

"Tonight means to me the beginning of a whole new, you might say, excitement."

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