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COVID-19 Arts Sector Impacts

To view the latest findings, visit the COVID Cultural Impact Study page, here.

Download this Winter 2021 report as a PDF here.

ArtsFund surveyed arts, cultural, and scientific nonprofits in the Central Puget Sound, as part of ongoing efforts to measure the continued impacts from of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a merged dataset based on two waves of data collection sources: January 22, 2021 – March 5, 2021 (n=55) and from February 16, 2021 – March 2, 2021 (n=22). Of the 77 responding groups, 86% are based out of King County and 14% are based out of Pierce and Snohomish counties. The findings reflect significant impacts on organizations from reduction of skilled personnel, financial loss, and perceived permanent shifts to the sector.   

*All quotes (shown in Italics) were collected in survey

Please click on the charts to see a larger version.



The online survey was sent to ArtsFund’s Cultural Partners Network, a group of arts and culture-focused organizations across the Puget Sound region, and affiliated science organizations. At the time of data collection, responding organizations were in Phase 2 of the Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery plan.  


Based on the most recent available data, pre-pandemic budget sizes across responding organizations varied: 4% < $250K; 16% $250-$500K; 21% $500-$1M; 35% $1M-$5M; 24% > $5M (n=71).  



“Our online audience is growing, but in order to survive we needed to monetize that as much as possible, so we decided that our content should not be free and should reflect the cost of what it takes to produce these events. Thus, our events are expensive – but have kept us in business. But, we do make our content available to select communities via discount codes […] It is a tough balance.”

Fiscal Year 2020/21 budgets were compared to actuals from FY 2019/20 (reflecting the initial impacts of the pandemic) and FY 2018/19 (pre-pandemic).  

Grand Total Income:

•  A  42% decrease to grand total income is projected for 2020/21 as compared to 2018/19, the last pre-pandemic Fiscal Year for responding organizations. 2020/2021 is also projected to have 29% less grand total income than 2019/2020, the FY in which the pandemic began.

Earned Income:

•  A 65% decrease in earned income is projected for 2020/2021 as compared to 2018/2019.  Earned income also saw significant decline in 2019/2020, a 43% decrease from the pre-pandemic 2018/2019 year.

Contributed Income:

•  Despite an increased in contributed income in 2019/2020, where contributed income was 23% higher than in the pre-pandemic year, the projections for contributed income in 2020/2021 reflect expectations that giving may return to pre-pandemic levels.

•  There has also been significant decline in contributed income specifically from benefits, galas, and guilds. 2020/2021 budgets for this vital contributed income stream are 29% lower than pre-pandemic numbers, and 12% lower than 2019/2020 tallies.

Operating Expenses:

•  Both 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 operating expense budgets track considerable reduction as compared to pre-pandemic levels:  2020/2021 budgets project a 37% decrease in operating expenses compared to pre-pandemic tallies, and a 24% decrease as compared to 2019/20.



As of January 2021, 56% of respondents had staff furloughed or laid-off as a result of the pandemic. The overall percentage of staff furloughs and lay-offs related to the pandemic has decreased over the past year – from 74% in April 2020 and 73% in October 2020.

Total personnel expenses budgeted for 2020/2021  are  30%  lower  than in the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2018/2019.  Artistic and production personnel budgets are those most dramatically affected, seeing 44% and 37% drops respectively since prior to the pandemic. Administration and education personnel budgets have seen drops of 12% and 11% respectively.


“While the organization is finding ways to continue to serve dance artists and audiences, artists are struggling to make work during the pandemic, and feeling immense pressure to translate their live performances to virtual happenings. In some cases, this invites innovation; but it also asks for huge adaptations and learning from our artists.”



While 22% of respondents have already re-opened, only 7% feel they can resume in-person programming in Spring or Summer (April – August).

35% project they will not resume in-person programming until Fall 2021.

The majority of organizations (57%) feel confident that they will have the necessary funds to resume in-person programming when the time comes. An additional 13% feel “extremely confident.”   This figure is specific to re-opening costs, and does not capture uncertainties about sustainability of in-person operations once resumed.

Visual Arts groups account for 50% of respondents who are ‘extremely confident.’ A wide range of disciplines, from dance to theatres, are only ‘slightly confident’ (27%) about resuming in-person programming.





“For the sector [we] need more proactive approaches to prepare for such disruption and really strengthen the sector and emphasize the role the arts can play for collective and individual well-being.”


 Consistent with trends ArtsFund has been tracking throughout quarterly data collection, respondents report making the following shifts and changes to serve their communities in response to the pandemic: 



“Prior to the pandemic, while we sought partnerships with other arts presenters and nonprofit sector partners, we didn’t prioritize that. Moving ahead, […] we are making partnerships a more core portion of our mission. We want to create a rising tide with our artform, and that can only happen in partnership with our community — both arts and other sectors.”

Three  overarching themes emerged from the question: what changes do you anticipate may be permanent shifts to your work and/or the sector?

>>> Continued provision of digital programming

•  Inclusive of a hybrid approach between in person and digital programming and increased investment in digital infrastructure and associated costs

>>> Organizational commitments and changes

•  Inclusive of  DEAI commitments and practices, increased partnerships, and updates to mission, vision and values

>>> Adjustments to operations and capacity

•  Including reduced in-person capacity, investments into program accessibility, vary pricing modes. and increased safety and sanitation models.



Prior to the closures, organizations have relied on a balance of earned and contributed income to continue operations. In the wake of ongoing closures and limited capacity re-openings, resulting in drastic reductions to their earned income streams, arts and cultural nonprofits need support. Buy tickets to events, purchase a membership and season passes, and contribute.

Join us in spreading the word that arts are essential to our communities. As key actors in our communities, stewards of arts and culture, and major economic and social drivers, they need your voice to amplify their critical work.


To view ArtsFund’s COVID-19 Impacts on Arts, Cultural, Scientific Nonprofit Organizations in the Central Puget Sound Region survey findings for October 2020, click here and April 2020, click here.