ArtsFund Releases Data Updates On COVID-19 Impacts On Cultural Sector

The snapshot captures October data from 47 Central Puget Sound arts, cultural, and scientific nonprofits.

By: Oct. 29, 2020

ArtsFund Releases Data Updates On COVID-19 Impacts On Cultural Sector

Seven months into pandemic-related closures of cultural nonprofits throughout the Central Puget Sound Region, ArtsFund releases new data tracking the ongoing impacts to the sector and the communities it serves. The snapshot captures October data from 47 Central Puget Sound arts, cultural, and scientific nonprofits, and focuses on employment impacts, digital programming, and reopening.

"ArtsFund's Fall sector snapshot highlights the resilience and creativity of the region's cultural sector, which has quickly pivoted to provide innovative and accessible digital programming throughout the pandemic. The significant percentage of new programs and partnerships, as well as the broadening of audiences reached, underscore an exciting and ongoing reinvention of cultural relevance in the digital realm," states Michael Greer, ArtsFund President & CEO. "However, these advances are coupled with significant workforce and revenue declines, and the risk of losing our region's skilled creative workforce, as well as the closure of many cultural nonprofits, is high. In the wake of ongoing closures and limited capacity re-openings, and as we reimagine the future of this sector post-pandemic, cultural nonprofits need support."

Key findings below. Complete findings from the October sector impact report can be found here:

Employment Impacts (reported as of 10/1/2020)

  • 73% of respondents currently have employees laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic.
  • The current total average percentage of staff furloughed and/or laid off per organization is 34%. Data varies widely from organization to organization, with many organizations reporting 100% of staff is currently laid off or furloughed. For nearly half the respondents (47%), over 70% of their workforce is affected in at least one category (full, part-, or seasonal/contract).
  • Of those individuals affected by layoffs and furloughs, 38% are full-time employees, 62% are seasonal and part- time.
  • Approximately 9% of the respondent's workforce that had been furloughed and/or laid off as a result of the pandemic have been rehired.
  • Qualitative data captures concern around potential permanent loss of the skilled and creative workforce essential to the creation of our region's vibrant arts and cultural landscape. With ongoing furloughs, reductions in hours, and layoffs, many are beginning to turn to full-time positions outside the sector. "The future of live theater and live music is at risk. Many venues will not survive. Employees, artists, promoters, technicians, stagehands are all unemployed and struggling."

Digital Programming

  • Among respondents, 100% are currently offering digital programming or are planning to do so with their upcoming programming cycles.
  • 52% are making their digital programs available at no cost to participants. For the 48% of organizations who are charging, the cost to patrons is on average 41% less than that of attending in-person programs.
  • Respondents are reaching new audiences through their digital programs. 80% are connecting with patrons outside the geography they typically serve and 73% with patrons who are new to their organization.
  • Since the pandemic-related closures, 91% of cultural nonprofits have developed new programs and 46% have formed new partnerships around co-produced programming.
  • These adjustments are made in the face of numerous challenges, including audience's access to tech requirements (54%), organization's lack of equipment (54%), and technical ability (50%).


  • At the time the data was being collected, roughly two thirds of responding organizations remained unable to re-open due to public health guidelines.
  • 72% of organizations permitted to reopen have done so. The 28% who received the greenlight to reopen prior to the survey and have yet to do so are projecting reopening dates between January and Summer 2021, with worst-case scenario projections going into 2022.
  • Respondents have learned that their patrons are mostly concerned with being safe in community spaces (65%) and compliance with the public health guidelines (56%). "It's a mix between, 'hurry up and bring back the arts!' and 'I'm not coming back until there is a vaccine'."
  • To reopened groups, patrons have expressed excitement to return to "the sense of belonging and community" they feel at arts and cultural organizations. "[The response to our reopening has] been very positive with comments about our adherence to safety protocols and appreciation that we are still standing!"

Data for ArtsFund's online survey was collected October 1, 2020 through October 16, 2020. The results include participation from 47 Central Puget Sound cultural nonprofits in disciplines including theater, music and opera, visual arts, cultural heritage, film and media, science, dance, literary arts, multi-disciplinary, and service organizations. 87% of responses are from King County-based organizations, the remainder from Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties. Many of the nonprofits have statewide reach.


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