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Congressional House Hearing Held To Discuss COVID's Impact On Arts Industry

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There was a dramatic appeal Wednesday to help the arts and culture industries across the country as the pandemic continues to impact millions of artists.

Some people from the Tri-State Area testified before a congressional committee.

From ballet to Broadway, COVID closed the curtains on almost every stage.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Carson Elrod is one of the country's 5.2 million creative workers still struggling to find work.

"As part of our bi-weekly COVID protocols, I and three other people in the cast and crew tested positive, and the theater had to shut the show, so we closed and I become unemployed overnight," he said.

The New York-based actor co-founded Arts Workers United, advocating for an industry that lost $150 billion in sales in just the first few months of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the organization testified at a Congressional House hearing, the first in history to draw attention to the creative economy as a whole and its impact on communities.

"Within a month, we laid off 500. That 500 led to 5,000 in our town and 20,000 across the region," said Nataki Garret, with Oregon Shakespeare Theatre.

During the virtual hearing, speakers implored small business committee members to extend unemployment for creative workers, create a Secretary of Arts and Culture and support universal arts education in schools.

Representatives carefully listened.

"The wounds of the pandemic inflicted on the arts economy are deep and painful and potentially long-lasting," Rep. Dean Phillips, of Minnesota, said.

Arts workers argue that investing in their industry lifts up much more than just the economy.

"On the other side of the plague was the Renaissance. On the other side of the 1918 flu was the Roaring '20s. So Congress really has an opportunity here," Elrod said.

An opportunity to invest in a sector workers hope will lead the country to another era of rebirth.

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