Survey Reveals 75% of WA Arts & Culture Organizations Will Exhaust Operating Funds by November 2020
The Statewide Cultural and Creative Economic Recovery Survey, conducted by 4Culture and 13 Washington state-based partner organizations, finds that operating budgets for Washington’s arts and culture sector will run out much earlier than anticipated. Of the 483 arts and culture organizations surveyed in Washington state, 75% report they will have depleted their operating budget by the end of November 2020. The survey goal was to identify needs for individuals and organizations in the reopening phases. More than 80% of organizations surveyed in Washington don’t expect to open until Phase 3, or later, of Washington’s COVID-19 Safe Start Plan and 63% of them also report annual revenues less than $250,000. Of the organizations reporting revenues less than $250,000 more than two-thirds (68%) estimate needing an additional $10,000 or less to reopen. It should be noted that the majority of arts and culture organizations surveyed (68%) are located within King County and 13% self-identify as tribal and/or POC-centered.
The statewide survey also reached 753 individual artists and creatives in Washington. Note that the majority of individuals (65%) who responded are located within King County and 9% of responding individuals self-identify as Black, Indigenous or both. Of the 753 individual respondents, 33% describe their creative work as arts education, which includes teaching artists, educators and creative youth development. Their absence from this academic school year in Washington is expected to have ripple effects for years to come. 42% of these individual artists self-identify as visual artists confirming that their impact on the overall arts sector is larger than previously believed.
Among those at the highest risk of closure are tribal and/or POC-centered cultural groups; 58% of tribal and POC-centered groups operating in Washington have between 2 and 6 months of operating cash available. Individual artists and creatives of color – especially Black and Indigenous Artists – are attempting to access financial and facility support resources at a significantly lower rate than average; additionally, they perceive greater barriers to accessing those resources. In King County, 53% of tribal and/or POC-centered groups estimate needing an additional $10,000 or less to reopen or start their business again. 39% of tribal and/or POC-centered groups report they are unable to afford any additional costs; this means that, for many groups, even small sums of money can make a huge difference in their continued ability to serve their community.
Bennyroyce Royon, artistic director of the Evergreen City Ballet (ECB) in Renton, shared some of his experiences as the ECB family plans for mid-September classes. “I never anticipated a job shift from Artistic Director to “Covid Handyman,” but that seems to be my job for right now –and that’s OK with me. I love my arts community and will do anything for them. Last week I spent the day tracking down a $647 ladder so we could improve the dance studio lighting for our virtual and in person students. In March, June and August I drove four hours, to and from Tenino Washington, to get 10-gallon jugs of hand sanitizer for $178 from Sandstone Distillery. I spent three days and $300 on evergreen teal paint supplies so our dance space would feel fresh and inspirational for the students.” The small-but-mighty ECB arts community has the time and commitment but, as Royon elaborates, “we don’t have cash, insider connections, credit lines or access to financial resources to make things happen quickly or easily. In June I tallied my reopen expenses under $5000. But within the week, a slew of unanticipated expenses crept in. A $10,000 reopening budget sounds doable right now. But, if I am being really honest, I just don’t know anything for sure.”
Royon is Filipino-American and attended ECB as a teen on full scholarship. A few years after graduating Julliard, he joined ECB as Artistic Director. He understands first-hand the challenges that this lower income community of color faces. ECB tuition assistance is up 50% from last year and there are currently 88 students registered for classes (down 25% from last year). To date, ECB has lost over $130K in revenue and expenses for this first reopening phase keep going up. Royon continues, “Most of our revenue comes from the Nutcracker and I still haven’t figured out how to reconcile that. I know we won’t make budget, frankly I am working on a few different budgets right now depending on what scenario I have to follow. I just don’t know what will happen next. It’s terrifying.”
Confidence levels amongst cultural organizations are extremely concerning. Only 30% of groups in Washington say they are ‘somewhat confident’ they will have the necessary resources to reopen within their anticipated phase. 27% of groups in King County say they are ‘slightly or not at all confident’ they will have what they need to reopen. Technical assistance and funding for staffing, space, and facility modifications are the resources consistently cited as being most needed.
For arts organizations operating within King County’s largest indoor venues, the timelines to re-opening are longer and the operating budgets are much larger. Financial support on a federal and congressional level is critical for these organization’s survival well into 2021. The Seattle Men’s Chorus and Seattle Women’s Choruses are two of this country’s largest and oldest LGBTQ choruses. The risks, logistics and budgets associated with their live performances put them at one of the longest reopening rollouts.
Karen Lane is the choruses’ Executive Director and explains why long-term federal support is so critical. “There may be a public perception that, because we have a larger operating budget, we are safe. I am here to say, NO ARTS ORG IS SAFE! And we need the federal and state governments to step up –in a big way. Lane initially thought surviving a 3- to 6-month shutdown would be tough but survivable. Now, she is looking at a 12- to 18-month shutdown. Lane continues, “Many of us WILL NOT return. Yes, many jobs will be lost forever but so will the role we have played as community health and wellness partners. I don’t want that fact to get lost or forgotten. Art lifts spirits and gives hope. I implore everyone, especially government officials to closely examine sustainable solutions for the creative sector.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine reminds us, “We must do everything possible to help our small businesses and arts and cultural organizations emerge from the crisis alive, well, and ready to put thousands of people back to work. By carefully and thoughtfully helping with rent, payroll and other expenses, we can help ensure that more of our cultural touchstones survive and continue to contribute to the vitality of our region.”
The Arts and Culture sector has been devastated by Covid-19. It was among the first sectors to shut down in March and it will be among the last in Washington to reopen. A recent survey released by the American Alliance of Museums reveals that 33% of museum respondents in America report they are likely to face permanent closure by the end of 2020.
The Brookings Institution is a DC-based nonprofit public policy research organization and their recently released study reinforces the message that Arts, culture, and creativity is a key component (along with science, technology, business and management) to driving any local economy. The Brookings Institution’s study estimates cumulative losses for the creative industries in Washington state (from April to July 2020) to be over 78,400 jobs and almost $5.2million in sales. The creative sector’s value and immeasurable role in mental wellness and high quality of life for any state’s residents extends far beyond its direct economic function.