Washington, D.C., is filled with major attractions that focus on art, history, culture, and heritage. From the Smithsonian Institution to the National Gallery of Art to the Washington Monument, there is certainly no shortage of vast arts and heritage organizations in the nation’s capital. Normally, these venues are packed with tourists and visitors, as well as locals who don’t want to lose sight of what makes their community so special. COVID-19, however, had its own plans and was able to incapacitate even the most time-honored spots.
Career opportunities at these sites were flourishing in the pre-pandemic days, suffered greatly during the height of COVID-19, and are gradually on their way back to blossoming again. Let’s look more closely at some of the ways the pandemic has impacted the job scene at large D.C. arts and heritage organizations in the last couple of years.
Before the pandemic
In the first half of 2019, employment in D.C. was on the rise, and there were no signs anything was going to derail this prosperous trend. Arts and heritage organizations employed nearly nine percent of D.C.’s workforce, which is not surprising considering what a popular travel and tourist destination the country’s capital has always been. Large museums, theaters, and historical attractions very rarely experienced employment slumps prior to the pandemic. Unfortunately, that all changed drastically when COVID-19 took center stage.
During the pandemic
In the midst of COVID-19, even landmark museums like the Smithsonian were forced to shut their doors, send their employees home, and try to salvage what they could in the virtual world. This type of ordeal was unprecedented, with the longest shutdown in the museum’s history taking place in 1995 for just 35 days. Smithsonian Facilities Director, Nancy Bechtol revealed the pandemic was humbling, but also emphasized the value of being flexible in uncertain times.
With large numbers of employees switching to telework, and patrons forced to admire the arts via their computer screen, new hires in this industry were practically unheard of during the pandemic. Those who were already employed within the field had to either completely switch gears or consider changing careers, at least temporarily.
Midsummer of 2021, D.C. lifted all of its capacity restrictions and planned for a full re-opening. Sadly, those plans were foiled when COVID numbers began to spike again. Nevertheless, with mask restrictions still in place, a large portion of the district’s major art and heritage venues have opened their doors and continue to keep them open. As a result, workers are returning and hiring freezes are thawing.
Present and post-pandemic outlooks
The rollercoaster ride known as COVID-19 has yet to end. However, thanks to more than half of the nation being fully vaccinated, the future remains hopeful. Most of the major tourist attractions in D.C. have re-opened, including The Smithsonian Institution Building, The National Air and Space Museum, The Washington Monument, The Library of Congress’ Jefferson Building, The National Museum of African Art, and Ford’s Theater. Fingers crossed, they will remain open long-term so patrons and personnel alike can continue to enrich our community culture.
Travel to, from, and within the district has also become less restrictive, making it possible for tourism to once again bloom like the cherry blossoms each spring. Employers in the larger arts and heritage venues are primed to re-staff, so if you feel destined to work in this industry, now would be a great time to dust off and update your resume.
Being blindsided by a worldwide pandemic is, to put it mildly, unsettling. The arts and heritage industry has suffered all over the world, but D.C. took one of the hardest hits. This is a community that thrives on cultural diversity, national history, and jam-packed festivities. The D.C. energy may have been dimmed, but it will never be snuffed out. And looking ahead, the future seems bright.
Looking for a great event, visit The Washington Post’s Restart the Arts Culture hub!