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COVID-19 Impact on NYC Artists: Closures and Cancellations

Artists and cultural spaces in New York City have been especially impacted by the negative effects of COVID-19.

On March 12, 2020, in response to COVID-19, New York State (NYS) Governor Andrew Cuomo barred gatherings of more than 500 people and placed restrictions on other gatherings, prompting New York City’s (NYC) cultural institutions—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the NY Philharmonic—to shut their doors, postpone all programming and cancel all shows.

In a press conference the same day, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed the importance of the restrictions, which he conveyed as “difficult but necessary.”

On March 20, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced an executive order creating “New York State on PAUSE” restrictions, resulting in a de-facto shelter in place order.

While artists, cultural organizations and institutions, cultural groups and galleries began exploring creative ways to keep people engaged with art, culture and commerce while observing safety precautions, data shows that the art and cultural community, in particular, was disproportionately and negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as compared with other sectors.

Number of Artists Employed in NYC

July 2019
96,900 Artists Employed

July 2020
29,800 Artists Employed

July 2019 – July 2020 Change
-69% Decrease in Artists Employed

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NYC Artists During COVID

Prior to the pandemic, the cultural sector was one of the largest industries in NYC, employing nearly 293,000 workers, paying them $31 billion in wages and generating $110 billion in economic activity.

In 2019, the theater industry in NYC alone grossed $1.8 billion and drew 14.8 million patrons, while the dance sector contributed over $300 million to the City’s economy.

In New York State, the cultural sector contributes more than $120 billion to the economy annually. However, when cultural institutions closed their doors in March 2020, the City’s artists, actors, musicians, stagehands and freelancers suddenly found themselves unemployed and severed from their communities and livelihoods.

Over the next few months, the museum sector alone lost almost 34 percent of its jobs due to closures. On March 19th, the Metropolitan Opera laid off all of its union employees and on March 31st, The Met announced it would look to its $3.6 billion endowment to cover costs and maintain employees, something the museum had not previously done, even during World Wars, 9/11 or in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

By early April, the Queens Museum had laid off 30 employees, the Whitney Museum of Art had laid off 20 percent of its staff and other institutions expressed they may have to lay off a significant number of employees – in some cases up to 68 percent.

Jazz Musicians Wait on Balcony to Perform at at City Hall

Drop in NYC Artists’ Employment due to COVID19

Between March 2020 and April 2020, arts employment in NYC dropped by 60% or a loss of 52,100 people employed in the arts sectors.

Comparing July 2019 with July 2020, NYC saw a 69% decrease in artists employed.

Data Source: New York State Department of Labor

Artist Job Loss Compared to Other Industries due to COVID19

Comparing July 2019 and July 2020 employment changes by sector, Arts and Entertainment have been hit especially hard.

Arts and Entertainment lost 61% of jobs while Health Care and Social Assistance and Information gained 12% and 11% jobs respectively.

Food Service and Drinking Places and Clothing stores were also hit hard with a 40% loss in employment.

Data Source: New York State Department of Labor

Artist Unemployment Claims

Unemployment claims for those in the Arts and Entertainment in New York State went up +1208% during the COVID19 pandemic compared to the previous year, while all industries together as a whole in New York State went up 622%. In 2020, the arts industry share of all industry claims went up from 3.7% compared to 2.5% in 2019.

Data Source: New York State Department of Labor Weekly UI Claims Reports


Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations passed the following local laws to assist artists and cultural spaces during the COVID-19 Pandemic:

The local laws include:

 For feedback, comments, and questions please email

Created by the NYC Council Data Team.