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The Latest: 2 Deaths, 65 New Cases Statewide; Efforts Underway To Help The Arts

Casey Harlow / HPR

Updated 1/19/21, 12:00 p.m.

For the first time, the federal government has officially listed the arts as one of the sectors devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the second round of stimulus funds becomes available, there are efforts in Hawaii to aid access to those funds and secure more stable livelihoods for creatives in the state.

Teri Skillman, Executive Director of the Hawaii Arts Alliance, says when weddings, art shows, theaters. bars, conventions, and other social gatherings shut down,  of course, creatives lost event related work. Skillman says, many creatives were actually hit twice, since most artists also have jobs, often service industry jobs, that pay the rent. And qualifying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—or “PUA” was another complication.

"Artists, individual performers, visual artists, gig workers and contract workers were filing for unemployment, a lot of them weren't eligible and they didn't know why. We got email from individual artists saying, I've been refused PUA, I've been refused unemployment, what do you say to your kids when there's no food on the table.?"

Skillman says the size of Hawai'i's creative sector is uncertain, so a new Creative Artists Network, a database of active Hawai'i creatives, is open for sign up now.  

"We're really pushing the Creative Artists Network to start trying to see if we can't get group health insurance, copyright lawyers, to help us get a reasonable rate for artists."

Sign up at the Hawai'i Arts Alliance website. Senator Brian Taniguchi is leading an effort to establish a Creative Caucus at the Legislature. Advocates in the arts, education, business, the visitor industry and more, seek to strengthen and coordinate Hawai’i’s cultural and creative capital. They've formulated six priorities this legislative session. 

Initiatives include WPA style programs to employ artists and strengthen communities, a labor department listing of creatives linked to PUA and unemployment, tax deductions for arts donations, and a tax on tourism to support Hawai’i‘s cultural sector. 

-- HPR's Noe Tanigawa

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 65 new cases and two new fatalities on Tuesday.

According to the state's numbers, O?ahu had 44, Maui 9, Hawai?i Island 6, and Kaua?i, Lanai and Moloka?i had no new cases. 5 residents were diagnosed out of state.

The latest state count brings the O?ahu total to 20,018, Hawai?i County 2,088, Maui 1,487, Kaua?i 175, Lanai 106, and Moloka?i 25. The number of out-of-state cases totals 647.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 24,546 cases. The death toll stands at 324.

Hotel exec doesn't expect recovery in near future

Visitor statistics for the month of December and all of 2020 are likely to come out sometime next week.

Through November, overall visitors to the state for 2020 totaled about 2.5 million. That compares to roughly 9.5 million a year earlier.

Outrigger Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Sean Dee says the plunge in visitors has stretched beyond just the hotel business.

"Hotels are really kind of an ecosystem," he said.

"They're a little mini-economy. Sometimes we just think about housekeepers and front desk folks, but the reality is that we're connected to restaurants, that are connected to wholesale suppliers that are connected to farms."

While there have been "bright spots," Dee says business has been really slow.

"About half of our inventory is still closed, and the properties that are operating are now dipping back into the 20 - 30% occupancy range, which is obviously not healthy and frankly not profitable for us."

Dee says that any recovery in employment in the hospitality sector will be driven by occupancy rates. He says he expects those rates to remain at 20-30% or below for the first half of 2021 -- maybe rebounding to 40-50% by the third and fourth quarters.

Outrigger is an underwriter of Hawaii Public Radio.

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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