Art & Culture

Arts center CEO: theaters, nonprofits need more government aid to survive coronavirus crisis

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Key Points
  • Adam Philipson, the CEO of an arts nonprofit in New Jersey, told CNBC on Tuesday that the coronavirus crisis seriously threatens the arts industry. 
  • "Unless there's going to be some sort of a reinvestment in the entire arts sector, you're going to see theaters and not-for-profit organizations closing left and right,"  said Philipson, head of the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey. 
  • He said if that happens, "resuming some semblance of normalcy in our lives will be impossible to do." 
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Adam Philipson, the CEO of an arts nonprofit in New Jersey, told CNBC on Tuesday that the coronavirus crisis seriously threatens the arts industry. 

"We tried to build our runway as long as we can, but unless there's going to be some sort of a reinvestment in the entire arts sector, you're going to see theaters and not-for-profit organizations closing left and right," said Philipson, head of the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, New Jersey. 

Philipson said on "Power Lunch" if that happens, "resuming some semblance of normalcy in our lives will be impossible to do because people are going to crave to be together of course when it's safe." 

The National Endowment for the Arts received $75 million as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in March. State arts agencies and regional arts organizations received 40% of the funds to distribute, while the remaining money is for direct grants for arts nonprofits across the U.S. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington also, controversially, received $25 million in the CARES Act. 

However, Philipson said the challenges faced by arts organizations is greater than the government aid that has so far been allocated. "Those kinds of numbers are not going to sustain a sector that is critical for the resemblance for our lives," he said. 

The Count Basie Center for the Arts has received about $787,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program, but Philipson said those funds will not be able to sustain the organization over the duration of the coronavirus-related revenue hit. 

"That can't carry us for long at all. I mean maybe it's two months," he said. "I think back when we applied and got it, and of course we're very grateful that we did get it, June seemed like a year away and now June is coming around the corner pretty quickly." 

Philipson said he is hearing chatter in the arts industry that they could begin to reopen and hold events in September, "if we're lucky." "There's talk that it could be as late as January," he added. 

The Count Basie Center for the Arts receives about 75% to 80% of its revenue through concerts, classes and similar events, Philipson said. "Being nonprofit, the proceeds, or the extra that we have, the surplus, goes for rainy funds, of which we've blown through all of it in the last three months." 

The organization has been able to adapt and move some of its classes and events online since New Jersey moved to ban large events in March, Philipson said. But it has still been a difficult road, he said. 

"Survival does not look great for us. In fact it doesn't look great for the entire arts sector," he said. "We have not made a dollar since March 12. The losses are astounding."