How will Utah's arts sector recover from pandemic? Industry leaders say they're safely open for business

Leading actors of the musical "Everybody's Talking About Jamie." Noah Thomas, right, who plays Jamie, and Hiba Elichike, who portrays Pritti Pasha, speak to the Associated Press in the auditorium of the Apollo Theater where the musical is preparing to continue its run in London, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

(Alastair Grant, Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utahns feel safe and comfortable going shopping or eating at restaurants by this point during the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to entertainment and cultural events, there's more hesitation, according to a new survey from Y2 Analytics.

About 91% of Utahns say they feel comfortable going to a zoo, garden or aquarium, whereas only 52% feel the same level of comfort about attending an indoor concert, play or other live performance.

Researchers surveyed 1,104 randomly selected registered Utah voters in early March. An oversample of 649 registered Salt Lake County voters were also included in the data and responses were weighted to make sure no group was disproportionately represented.

Among those who said they aren't currently comfortable going to a live entertainment show, the majority said they will feel safe to participate in those activities within the next six months. Additionally, 1 in 5 respondents said they expect to spend more on these activities post-pandemic than they were willing to spend pre-pandemic.

"I think that expresses some sentiments around pent-up desire. Certainly this is something that's been missing from voters' lives when we're thinking about the Utah economy and the level of impact there," explained Kyrene Gibb with Y2 Analytics on Friday.

When it comes to outdoor events, like concerts, plays and other performances, more respondents said they feel comfortable attending these shows.

How to make patrons feel safe

Of the safety precautions venues can take to put audience members more at ease, mask-wearing and sanitization are widely considered the most important things that hosts can do to reassure guests.

A total of 70% said they are more comfortable attending events if the surfaces are regularly sanitized.

About 68% of respondents said they feel safe doing their normal daily activities and 67% said current health and safety measures are mitigating the risk of the virus.

Vaccinations also play an important role to most respondents — with 65% saying they would be more willing to attend live events if there was widespread community vaccination and if they had personally been vaccinated.

Other precautions that have helped Utahns feel safer include:

  • Hosting live events outdoors.
  • Limiting attendance.
  • Requiring staff and attendees to wear face masks.
  • Providing hand sanitizer.
  • Maintaining social distance.
  • Conducting daily symptom checks for staff and participants.

Statewide, 80% of respondents feel that they are able to protect themselves against the virus.

"A large majority here do see a light at the end of the tunnel and feel things are getting back to normal, or that they're safe engaging in regular day-to-day activities," Gibb said.

Virtual viewing options had little to no impact on a person's likelihood to participate in an event, according to the study. However, the shift to online events over the last year has been a silver lining during a tough year, as more people have been able to view shows from afar.

"Those virtual options, while increasing accessibility is nice, aren't things that are likely to generate more interest than we currently have," Gibb said.

How did Utah's creative industry fare during the pandemic?

Data gathered about Utah's arts and culture industry in 2018, the most recent year data is available, shows that 155,551 Utahns were employed in the sector and $4.8 billion in revenue was generated for the state economy along with $264.3 million in nonprofit earnings and $15.2 billion in gross sales.

In all, the sector represented about 4.3%, or $7.2 billion of the state's economic earnings, showing it was "certainly a significant contributor to the Utah economy," Gibb said.

During the pandemic, more than 3,000 unemployment claims were filed by those in the cultural sector and it's estimated that more than 22,000 independent contracting jobs were lost as well. The cultural industry reported a loss of more than $76 million, according to data collected by Heritage & Arts via a Utah Cultural Alliance Foundation survey.

Statewide, the research revealed that a majority of voters feel more concerned about the economic impact of COVID-19 rather than the health implications and conversely, in Salt Lake County, residents said they feel the public health risks outweigh the economic impacts.

Utahns are excited to engage with the arts again

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said the pandemic took a toll on their mental health and their social life was negatively affected.

Additionally, 38% said they are most excited to go back to festivals and cultural events and 19% even said they anticipate engaging with this sector more now than before the pandemic.

The numbers indicate the state is ready to reengage with the cultural sector, Gibb noted.

Donating to the organization, renewing subscriptions, and telling others about the safety precautions taken at events can help the state's entertainment sector recover from COVID-19 quicker, according to Gibb.

Estimates show that it will take the state's cultural industry three to five years to fully recover the losses incurred during the pandemic.

Live shows and events were one of the first things to shut down, and it will likely be one of the last things to fully reopen, said Wendi Hassan, executive director for the Cache Valley Center for the Arts.

"Haven't you missed the magic of this industry, the magic of live arts culture and entertainment? This state knows that magic, and as you saw on the survey results misses that magic," said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of the Utah Cultural Alliance. "We want to remind you that despite the fact that this industry is hurting and is one of the most impacted industries of this time, and we are still in need of additional support. ... This industry is open for business and open safely statewide."

Upcoming shows

For those eager to support the arts in Utah, here are a few upcoming shows:

Salt Lake County Arts and Cultural Venues

  • Virtual Spring Soirée, opens April 30 at Rose Wagner Theatre
  • Choreographic Festival by Ballet West, opening May 12 at Rose Wagner Theatre
  • Peter Brook's La tragaédie de Carmen, runs May 8-16 at Capitol Theatre
  • The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, runs May 7-15 at Eccles Theatre

Cache Valley Center for the Arts

  • The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, runs May 21-22 at Ellen Eccles Theatre
  • Matilda by Cache Theatre Company, runs April 30-May 8

Salt Lake City Arts Council

  • Living Traditions Festival, starting May 15

Tuacahn Center For the Arts in Ivins, Utah

  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast, running May 7-Oct. 23 at the outdoor amphitheater
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, running July 24-Oct. 21 at the outdoor amphitheater

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Lauren Bennett is a reporter with who covers Utah’s religious community and the growing tech sector in the Beehive State.


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