The New York State Department of Labor has released new statistics demonstrating how destructive the pandemic was to the Capital Region’s creative economy last summer.

Performing arts and spectator sports saw a 64 percent decline in jobs in the third quarter over the prior year – the highest percentage lost out of any sector in the eight-county region.  

“This industry has been devastated,” said Philip Morris, president and CEO of Proctors Collaborative. Proctors laid off 160 full-time and 53 part-time workers, plus has hired no stage hands for a year, the equivalent of $3 million of annual payroll. There are now 32 full-time staff, representing an 80 percent loss in full-time staff positions at the area’s largest regional arts organization.

“The losses in the creative industries has been overwhelming,” said Maureen Sager, executive director of the Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy, a not-for-profit organization organizing and advocating for creative workers, businesses and venues. “In 2018, the creative industries were the fourth largest employment sector in the Capital Region, with over 36,000 workers. Thousands of those jobs have been lost. It’s unthinkable.”

Morris added that the recovery will be extremely difficult. “The supply chain for so much of it, like theater, is months long. That means a recovery will be years. Federal support will help enormously, but more importantly we need artists back working and audiences back in seats.”

When asked about limited re-openings, Morris said the economics don’t work at his organization’s three venues, “We can’t really return until we can welcome full houses again.”

Additionally, over half of those working in the Creative Industries are freelance workers, who, statistically, have experienced more COVID-19-related financial hardship than traditionally-employed workers.

“Musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, waiters, cooks…so many people have been cut off from their livelihoods,” said Sager. “Their employment options slammed shut in March 2020, and it has yet to be seen if they will eke back in 2021, if at all.”

Branch VFX, a visual effects production company in Albany shut down permanently in June. “Branch VFX laid off its entire staff of 15,” says its former executive producer, Sam Margolius. “The company had hired just over half of its workforce from local talent while attracting the other 50 percent to move here. These workers – and Branch VFX – were great for the local economy. So much related business activity is lost.”

Branch VFX provided services for major motion pictures and series, including The Joker, Sonic the Hedgehog and Jessica Jones.

“The film industry completely shut down for longer than many other industries, so it’s been especially hard for us,” former Branch VFX film director / producer Michelle Polacinski said. “I have since returned to freelance work out of necessity, but I only get about one gig a month if I’m lucky, which is never enough to pay the bills. It’s also harder having to commute to New York City or drive for hours in other directions just to work.”

Freelance director Micah Khan estimated that he lost 60 percent of his paid work. “I had work lined up for the entire year of 2020,” he said.

Policinski and Khan have started a 518 Film Network group on Facebook, to connect and promote the Capital Region’s independent film community.