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Survey Reveals Arts Groups Face Similar Challenges

In June 2017 ArtsFund conducted a survey of its 112 Cultural Partners in an attempt to answer several important questions: What is the range and scope of the organizations ArtsFund serves? What are their greatest needs and challenges? What types of partnerships have they forged in the community?

Responses from 82 arts and cultural organizations of varying sizes, annual budgets, and disciplines brought answers into focus. ArtsFund’s affiliated organizations range in annual expense budget from $5 thousand to $35 million, with 48% falling under the $1 million mark, and 52% over. With respect to discipline, organizations most commonly identified as multidisciplinary (29%), music (23%), theatre (17%), and visual arts (13%). 39% of respondents reported five or fewer full time employee equivalents; 74% reported 25 or fewer. The average board size of respondents was 17 members, and the most common board size reported was 12 members.

Despite the huge breadth in organizational scale, when asked about the greatest challenges currently facing their organization, 96% of responses fell within five distinct categories: challenges related to funding, social or political issues, audience growth or management, staffing or human resources, and challenges related to real estate or space.

By far the most commonly reported challenge by organizations of all sizes was funding, with 36% of answers falling into this category. Respondents cited the need for operating support, unpredictable funding sources, shifting funding priorities, and ongoing capital campaigns as major issues. Challenges with staffing, including onboarding new employees, meeting the rising cost of living for employees, offering competitive salaries, employee turnover, and leadership transitions comprised 17% of responses and were the second most frequent type of answer.  Social and/or political issues were the third most common response, totaling 15% of all responses. This category included struggles with equity, diversity, and inclusion work, as well as challenges operating in our country’s current divisive social and political climate.

The survey also revealed that the overwhelming majority of ArtsFund Cultural Partners work with other non-arts organizations in the community to advance their missions. Ninety-five percent of respondents cited at least one active community partnership, with the most common types of partnerships being with schools (85%), youth-related organizations (79%), community centers (54%), senior centers (45%), and homelessness service organizations (22%).

One of ArtsFund’s key aims in conducting this survey was to create a resource for the arts and cultural community that communicates the state of our sector, and helps us all better understand the broader landscape in which we coexist. We hope this report serves as a tool to help advocate on behalf of the sector, and ensure that ArtsFund’s programs and services align with the needs of the organizations that benefit from them.

For more information, download the complete report here. For a comprehensive list of ArtsFund’s Cultural Partners, click here.

Photos (l-r): Seattle Arts & Lectures, Writers in the Schools (WITS) Anthology Launch, photo by Libby Lewis; Seattle Art Museum, SAM Remix, photo by Jen Au; The 5th Avenue Theatre, “Man of La Mancha”, photo by Mark Kitaoka; Seattle Theatre Group, More Music @ the Moore; photo by Christopher Nelson; Frye Art Museum, Small Frye: Storytelling + Art; photo: Olli Tumelius.