The head of the Wisconsin Arts Board is calling for greater state support for the arts and cultural sector, saying “it’s going to be a tough time ahead.” 

“It’s going to take extreme creativity,” Executive Director George Tzougrous said Friday in a Wisconsin Policy Forum webinar. “But most importantly, it’s going to mean all of us in the arts, again thanking people for the resources we’ve received, but understanding going forward there’s going to need to be a greater investment.” 

Joe Peterangelo, a senior researcher for WPF, said Wisconsin dedicated about 14 cents per capita to arts and culture in budget year 2022. That places the state at 49th out of 50 states for arts funding. By comparison, the national median is about seven times as much, he noted.

Friday’s discussion centered on the path ahead for the arts in Wisconsin, which took a major hit early in the pandemic and have yet to fully recover. Tzougrous noted many workers in the sector have left to seek other employment, and volunteerism is lagging as well. Both of those groups “have not come bouncing back as we had hoped,” he explained. 

“Some have taken their skills — carpenters, electricians and others — to other industries where they can monetize them some more,” he said.  

A WPF report from April found employment across a number of arts and cultural industries — such as performing arts, spectator sports, sound recording and others — remained well below 2019 levels late last year. 

While speakers noted the employment picture for 2022 is less clear so far, Tzougrous said participation and attendance at ticketed events around the state still appear sluggish compared to pre-pandemic. 

He explained masking and vaccination requirements at venues may be “making people hesitant,” also pointing to the impact of inflation on both consumers and arts organizations. 

“Buying materials, supply chain issues that have driven costs up … and for the person who’s purchasing the ticket, they’re making decisions for their family, what they’re going to spend their money on,” he said. “Those are a couple things that are, in fact, keeping audiences depressed, shall we say, as far as the numbers are concerned.” 

See the April report here: 

–By Alex Moe

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