Photo depicting a Black- and female-presenting individual in a red skirt dancing against a blue-lit stage.

Struggling Art Sector Is Critical to State’s Recovery, Report Shows

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

A new report — quantifying the pandemic’s toll on Washington arts and culture institutions — warns the damage still isn’t done but identifies the arts as a key element in the state’s overall recovery. 

Leaders from across the state, such as Seattle Art Museum’s CEO Amada Cruz and Spokane Arts’ Executive Director Melissa Huggins, joined ArtsFund’s President and CEO Michael Greer last week to highlight the importance of the art sector. Leaders also made an urgent call for state leaders to prioritize funding for the arts. 

“Washington’s cultural institutions have been significantly impacted as a result of this pandemic,” Greer said during his opening remarks at last week’s report presentation. 

COVID Cultural Impact Study: Charting the state of Washington’s cultural nonprofits reveals new insights into the future of the arts based on data collected from more than 200 organizations across the state. The report also surveyed 737 patrons of the arts as well as an additional 874 people representative of Washington State residents. 

The report revealed that over the two years of the pandemic, there has been a $95.9 million loss in revenue across the 121 organizations that participated in the study. And while nearly all (93%) of participating organizations received at least one form of pandemic relief, BIPOC-identifying art organizations tended to have a harder time accessing relief funding. 

“BIPOC organizations in our sample tended to be smaller in budget size and our study showed smaller budget size organizations accessed fewer relief funding sources from State, County, and federal programs, only compounding this issue,” Greer said. 

Despite BIPOC-owned art organizations experiencing a 29% increase in revenue during the first year of the pandemic, by 2021 a 50% decrease was projected, effectively bringing their revenue below their 2019 amount.

Photo depicting Simone Porter playing their violin while standing in front of violin section of Seattle Symphony performing at Benaroya Hall.
Simone Porter performs with Seattle Symphony musicians at Benaroya Hall, conducted by Shiyeon Sung. (Photo: James Holt)

The report also found that organizations have learned to juggle reopenings and mask mandates and have generally welcomed patrons back. Though half of “cultural participants” (defined as persons who attended at least one cultural event since March 2020) surveyed reported that they plan to spend 50% less on cultural activities than before the pandemic. 

Arts organizations were among some of the first institutions to pivot their programming online during the pandemic, leading the way in virtual innovation. The report points out that those pivots increased accessibility and brought in new audiences but need more investment if they are to continue to innovate. 

“The opportunities to rethink business models and organizations are exciting,” the report reads. “But financial support and flexible time and space to transform operations are needed to take advantage of them.”

Rita Meher, the executive director of Tasveer, one of the largest South Asian arts organizations in the country, said the pandemic helped them gain a global audience as they teamed up with smaller arts organizations. Now, they have launched their first ever streaming project, offering 50 award-winning films. 

Huggins said the contributions of the art world during this pandemic have been integral. Beyond the numbers, she said, is a “deeply human side” to the work that’s being done in the creative sector. 

“Creatives are exhausted in a way I’ve never seen before; however, what they have been able to accomplish despite everything we’ve faced is awe-inspiring,” she said.  

And the public agrees. The survey reveals that “joy through art” was one of the main reasons they would continue to participate in attending cultural events and supporting cultural organizations. They also noted that art and culture organizations play a key role in “community unity and vitality.” And nearly half of those surveyed said they saw cultural organizations as playing a key part in the economic recovery of the state. 

“Throughout the report, there’s examples about how artists have found new ways to connect to audiences, create mutual aid, comfort people, help spread public health messaging,” said Huggins. “And that work is needed more than ever.”

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured Image: Dancer mid-performance on stage. (Photo: Erik Stuhaug, courtesy of LANGSTON, Gansango Africa Remix.)

Before you move on to the next story …

The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With around 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.

If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn’t have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference.

We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!