The sector has been devastated by the pandemic, but it could have been much worse without more than $35 million in relief.
SEATTLE — A new report details how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Washington state’s arts and culture sector, which has taken a hit of nearly $100 million over the past of the first year alone.
The study, conducted by nonprofit ArtsFund, found that among 121 organizations across the state, there was a $95.9 million drop in revenue from March 2020 to March 2021, and the pandemic does not seem to be stopping.
The hit, which is massive in an industry where most organizations report an annual budget of less than $250,000, would have been much larger, with organizations reporting a loss of around $131 million in earned revenue. However, pandemic relief funds, individual contributions and grants supplemented $35.7 million of that revenue.
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“We are not at the end of a pandemic, we are at the beginning of what we envision as structural transformation,” said Michael Greer, President and CEO of ArtsFund. “In addition to reimagining the role of arts and culture in our community, we must be forward thinking in all of our relief and fundraising efforts so that we can reimagine this structural transformation for the community in the future.”
The blow to the industry also impacted other areas, including an additional $32.3 million drop in wages and benefits typically paid to cultural workers and entrepreneurs, according to the study.
Of the organizations surveyed, 41% have laid off staff or made reductions in hours and wages. While only 6% believe the furloughs or cuts are permanent, 46% have changed their staffing model, the majority of which say they are permanent.
The study found that many arts and culture venues, places like the Seattle Art Museum or the Museum of Pop Culture, were ready to return to pre-pandemic levels despite staff changes and shortages, but the Uncertainty “around attendees’ willingness to return” was the main challenge in reopening the majority of sites, even those that have remained open to some extent throughout the pandemic.
This uncertainty is only compounded with omicron, the latest variant of COVID-19.
“Getting people together in one room is really important and it’s only going to come a little bit here and there in waves. We were making a bit of progress and then we had to go back with omicron,” said Levi Fuller, administrative coordinator of the Jack Straw Cultural Center, located in Seattle’s University District. “So looking at spring and summer, we may only have to hold in-person events during the warmer months. No one knows yet exactly what it will look like.”
Jack Straw adapted when the pandemic started like other arts organizations, becoming hybrid with a mix of in-person and remote activities.
The ArtsFund study found that 81% of organizations have established or expanded remote working during the pandemic, with 65% believing these changes are permanent.
A King County cultural nonprofit told ArtsFund:[We] had to leave our space suddenly because we could no longer pay the rent without our earned income. We are now operating remotely and offering online and in-person programming across the city as we develop a plan for our next home.
Moving forward, Greer said these organizations must be at the heart of pandemic recovery and that recovery must focus on fairness.
“One of the things we’ve seen is that none of these initiatives will work without centering equity in everything we do,” Greer said.
One of the areas highlighted by Greer and in the impact study is improving accessibility to arts and culture programs, with around 33% saying they have made improvements and 22% saying they plan to do it.
“We’ve enabled more and different audiences to be part of arts and culture, and we know that arts and culture should be accessible to everyone,” Greer said. “There really is no way for our industry to grow without integrating these audiences through these new delivery methods, so by lowering the barriers to entry, we are going to see more participation and voice within the sector. .
Meanwhile, organizations continue to be nimble and adapt as the roller coaster that is the pandemic shows no signs of stopping.
The 5th Avenue Theater, which is in rehearsal for “Beauty and the Beast,” says it received help from the federal and county governments. State funding also allowed him to renovate his auditorium while performances died down. The theater has also upgraded its air filtration system and requires vaccinations or proof of negative testing, as well as masks, to keep attendees safe.
“Take good care of yourself. If you feel sick, don’t come, we have a very good refund and exchange policy,” said Bernie Griffin, general manager of the 5th Avenue Theater. “Come when you feel good.
Many organizations continued programming with safety measures in place in response to the pandemic and pivoted in light of its effects. Seattle JazzED’s Girls Ellington project was scheduled to travel to Las Vegas for a regional Ellington festival, but was canceled due to COVID-19.
Still, they didn’t miss a beat – the girls said they still wanted to keep recording their music, and education director Kelly Clingan said they hoped more people would get involved. .
“Seattle JazzED is here for our community. We’re interested in collaboration, which is part of jazz music itself,” Clingan said. “Grab your horn, join us and play some music with friends – there are no prerequisites for many of our classes.”
Kathy Hsieh, manager of cultural partnerships and grants for the city of Seattle, says the needs remain great in the area.
“It’s huge, it’s so massive,” Hsieh said. “The reality is that arts and culture organizations, as you saw in the ArtsFund report, revenues are down because a huge percentage of them still haven’t been able to open at all, because every time they are about to prepare to be open, every variant is coming.
Hsieh says the performing arts, in particular, have been challenged by waves of variations. They train and prepare for a performance – and when it’s postponed, they have to bring the actors back to rehearse.
“Despite all of this, so many arts and culture organizations in Seattle have continued to work,” Hsieh said. “They did things online to share with their audiences and most offered for free. All of that kept happening, so almost every arts organization still did some work – but don’t get any earned income, that’s what it’s all about. “That’s the challenge, because they’re not able to sell tickets. They’re doing it on the basis of reserve funding and now it’s largely sold out.”
Hsieh says looking to the next year, even more challenges could arise as nonprofits run out of reserve funds. She, like ArtsFund, says more public funding may be needed to support these programs.
“The arts have been so vital to keeping spirits up during the pandemic,” Hsieh said. “The only way to make this change is that we need more support from the public sector in general and from individual donors up to this point.”
Using its findings, ArtsFund has developed a number of recommendations for influencers to focus on to help the industry, including reimagining the role of arts and culture, expanding and maintaining public support, refocusing on equity and protecting the sector’s workforce.
This could be achieved by bridging the digital divide in the community, allowing more people to access digital programming, or by passing legislation ensuring sustainable funding for the sector.
Perhaps the greatest help for the sector will continue to come from the community, be it theatergoers, art lovers or anyone with a thirst for live music.
“We want to get back to what we do: serve our community by telling stories through music and dance,” Griffin said. “We are truly excited to have the opportunity to continue serving our community. What we’re saying is, “Come home.”