from the director: april

Studying the Recession

Since our last newsletter in early March, the results of a study examining the impacts of the recession on area arts and cultural organizations, has been released.

The study was funded by 4Culture, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Seattle Foundation and the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and conducted by Helicon Collaborative through interviews with 28 local arts, heritage and cultural organizations.

The study asked organization leaders a number of questions about how they are faring in this difficult economic environment, and how funders can help.

Since the results of the study have been featured in several recent news articles, I won’t go into great detail here. In a nutshell, we predictably learned that endowment income is down (20% – 35%); corporate contributions are down (20% – 50%); foundation and individual giving is down (10% – 25%). We learned that organizations are trying to control expenses, with many absorbing staff cuts, furloughs, pay and benefit reductions and hiring freezes. I know of one organization that has laid-off marketing staff, not because they don’t understand the connection between marketing and attendance, but because they had no other options. These are tough times for organizations of all sizes.

The participants were also asked what funders could do to help, other than increasing their levels of giving, (since funders are coping with the same budget crisis as the organizations they serve.) One recommendation was for funders to extend the support period for biennial grants such 4Culture’s Sustained Support program, which provides two years of funding. Why not extend those grants for a third year? The rationale is that groups could use the time to seek new supporters if they didn’t have to fill out lengthy applications from their traditional funders. 4Culture is considering this option for 2010.

While there are no great surprises in these findings, one beneficial outcome is that funders are talking to each other and the field in ways that we haven’t in the past. This is not the time for any of us to hunker in our bunkers. We are all in this together and open and candid dialogue about how we can all best work in collaboration is vitally important. We hope that you will continue to give us open feedback about how your organizations are doing and what we can do to help.

Jim Kelly
Executive Director