COVID-19 Impacts on the Arts – June 2020

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COVID-19 has changed our way of live indefinitely. The cultural sector has been deeply impacted, and arts organizations are feeling the financial stress like never before. Read on for details on local, state-wide, and national effects to culture, and for ways to take action to ensure creative workers and institutions aren’t left behind as budgets are reevaluated and funds distributed.

The Worcester Cultural Coalition (WCC) hosted a survey for Worcester cultural organizations. Respondents ranged from small volunteer efforts to large institutions, including the performing arts, museums, the sciences, visual arts, public radio, festivals, game development, and more. As of May 18, the 34 respondents reported revenue loss of $6.29 million, with a total expected loss exceeding $12.6 million. Thus far, 21% of organizations with paid employees have laid off or furloughed staff, over a third have reduced salaries and hours, and at least 70% have applied for financial aid through the PPP or SBA’s EIDL. View the data in a slideshow here. This survey was only open for 4 days to make the data available during a recent Town Hall with Congressman Jim McGovern hosted by the WCC and the MCC.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has completed two surveys of both arts organizations and individual creative workers in Massachusetts. In its first survey released March 24, 566 cultural organizations reported over $55 million in losses. Less than a month later on April 15, nearly 700 organizations reported losses exceeding $260 million, and over 15,000 jobs had been impacted by layoffs, furloughs, and reductions to work hours or pay.  More information, and links to these surveys, can be viewed at

Americans for the Arts (AFTA) updates their national findings weekly. As of June 1, 2020, over 12,000 nonprofit arts and cultural respondents have reported financial losses estimated at $5.9 billion, with 67% expecting a “severe” impact on their organization, and 39% saying they are “likely” to have to reduce staff. Of course, these losses extend beyond the cultural sector itself – it’s estimated that $7.3 billion has been lost in event-related spending at local businesses such as restaurants, retail, and lodging. Of the 19,000+ individual artists who responded, 94% are losing income and 62% are fully unemployed, and 66% are unable to access supplies, resources, spaces, and people necessary for their work. Despite these foreboding numbers, the AFTA survey also found a tremendous resilience: 67% of organizations and 75% of artists are creating content to raise community spirit, improve morale, and create community cohesion.

In reviewing data gathered before COVID-19, the 2017 Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study found that just in Worcester, arts and culture is a $125.7 million industry. This industry doesn’t just enhance quality of life, but its economic benefits reach far beyond the walls of its venues.

The data make it clear – for the arts to survive, action is needed. Many organizations are offering suggestions on how to advocate for the arts and cultural sector, including Americans for the Arts and MASSCreative, which lists ideas including contacting your elected officials, signing petitions, writing a letter to an editorcreating and sharing a self portrait, and ways to advocating for funding at the national, state, and local levels.

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