It’s the Arts. Troubling News Yet Still Room for Optimism

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, Apr 14, 2020

Mr. Randy Cohen

The coronavirus is having a devastating impact on America’s arts sector. Since the first U.S. case was diagnosed, cancellations and closings have been reported at thousands of arts organizations across the country, artists are posting high unemployment rates, and organizations are furloughing staff.

Financial Losses to the Arts

Americans for the Arts created the COVID-19 Impact on the Arts Survey to measure the financial and human impacts that the coronavirus has had on the arts. The survey opened on March 13 and to date we have received more than 12,000 responses. The findings make plain the damage to the arts sector.

Nationally, financial losses to the nonprofit arts sector are estimated to be $4.5 billion (as of April 6). That is up from $3.2 billion just three weeks earlier. Nonprofit arts organizations have lost an estimated 197 million admissions due to cancelled or postponed events. Other findings from the study include:

  • 94% have cancelled events
  • 29% have used financial reserves
  • 34% have reduced creative workforce (artists)
  • 23% have reduced staff—43% report that it is “likely” they will reduce staff (28% say “extremely likely”)
  • 24% have reduced salaries/payroll
  • 69% expect this crisis to have a “severe” impact on their organization (36% expect an “extremely severe” impact).
Economic Impact of Financial Losses

What is the economic cost of 197 million fewer audience members passing through the turnstiles? It’s $6.2 billion, and here’s how we know: Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study demonstrates that the typical arts attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, lodging, and retail. Do the math and this means that local businesses already have missed out on $6.2 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences.

Taken together, the $10.7 billion in total financial losses ($4.5 billion by arts organizations + $6.2 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences) has resulted in:

  • 304,000 jobs no longer being supported
  • $1.8 billion in lost revenue to federal, state, and local governments
The Rebuilding Power of the Arts

Clearly this is a distressing time for the country with more uncertainty ahead. When the crisis does end, however, the arts should be looked to as an essential tool in both economic recovery and reconnecting our communities.

Getting people out of their houses and spending money again will be key to jump-starting the economy (70% of the U.S. economy is consumer spending). This is what the arts do. They create social and economic opportunities—attending a festival, visiting a museum, going to the theater, seeing a concert—and every time that attendee will spend an average of $31.47 beyond the ticket cost. This provides income to local businesses, energizes our downtowns, promotes visitation to different neighborhoods, and puts people to work. Total event-related spending nationally in 2015 was $103 billion and supported more than two million jobs!

The arts also will create opportunities to heal the isolation caused by social distancing and unify our communities. Regardless of who we voted for or one’s personal faith, everyone loves arts experiences like attending their local festivals, working together on a community mural, or seeing Hamilton a second time. These are things we do together—shared and meaningful experiences in public spaces—and the research shows that the public understands these well-being benefits:

  • 72% of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity”
  • 73% agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better”
  • 81% of the population says the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world”

What’s more, these perspectives are observed across all demographic and economic categories.

The coronavirus toll is heavy, but the arts can be our greatest asset in recovering from the crisis socially and economically. This is why doing everything in our power to bolster the arts now will make our nation stronger later.

The COVID-19 Impact on the Arts Survey is ongoing and arts organizations are encouraged to re-take the 5-minute survey every 3 to 4 weeks to accurately capture the growing impact of coronavirus on their organization. The survey is available to take online and results can be tracked using this interactive online dashboard.