BIPOC-led cultural organizations got tons of funding in 2020, then we left them dry – Slog

The cultural sector has been hit hard during the pandemic. Courtesy of LANGSTON

Anecdotally, we knew that COVID-19 had hit the arts sector hard. Now we have more data to back it up.


On Wednesday, ArtsFund released a massive report detailing the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on arts organizations in Washington state. the Covid Cultural Impact Study surveyed 200 state cultural nonprofits across a wide range of disciplines, along with 1,500 others, about their experiences over the past 18 months. The study provides an overview of the state of the sector and gives recommendations on how to move forward.

From 2019 to 2020, ArtsFund saw a $131.6 million drop in revenue earned across its surveyed organizations, with a $35.7 million increase in revenue contributed through items such as grants and donations. This leaves the total staggering decrease in revenue of approximately 21%, or $95.9 million. And that doesn’t include 2020-21, which ArtsFund CEO Michael Greer said saw a further 60% reduction in earned revenue. Damn, where is all the NFT money when you need it?


Study screenshot

This financial gut punch hasn’t been felt the same way by all arts organizations. The study found that the larger a cultural organization, the more access it had to pandemic relief funds, such as the federal Payroll Protection Program.

Interestingly, many small organizations identifying with BIPOC reported “significantly increased attention and funding” following Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. The survey group found a 29% increase contributions between fiscal years 2019 and 2020. But in fiscal year 2021, the story changed significantly; ArtsFund said contributed revenue for this year “is below its fiscal year 2019 baseline.” 50% drop from fiscal year 2020 to 2021.



In fact, in a case study of Seattle’s LANGSTON, ArtsFund reported that the black-led cultural organization initially appeared “to be financially in better shape than ever” due to “2020 funds prioritizing BIPOC organizations.” “. However, now that White people have stopped posting Toni Morrison quotes on Instagram as “advocacy”, that funding has all but gone up in smoke. Ironically, the temporarily boosted finances from 2020 have even prevented LANGSTON from applying for grants aimed at small organizations.

“We all need funding, but perhaps more so, we need to see big changes in the way cultural work is valued and invested in general,” LANGSTON executive director Tim Lennon wrote in an email. -email to the stranger. Lennon called for “massive changes to the systems that have maintained the power of private and public funders over the fate of our communities.”

During the pandemic, LANGSTON has also helped evolve the Seattle Artists Relief Fund, originally launched by Ijeoma Oluo, Gabriel Teodros and Ebony Arunga in March 2020. The fund provided direct assistance to artists and cultural workers across the state, prioritizing minority artists. By the time it closed in the spring of 2021, it had raised and distributed over $1.1 million to over 2,100 individual artists, four times LANGSTON’s operating budget.

The relief fund is something Lennon would like to replicate again this year with a program of sustainable funding and social infrastructure support aimed specifically at black artists and cultural workers in the region. “In the long term, we envision the success of this project by changing the existing norms of private and public sector philanthropic funders, encouraging them to better invest in community-created solutions like ours,” Lennon said.


Study screenshot

The pandemic has also had an outsized impact on the culture sector workforce. 41% of organizations surveyed said they had laid off workers or cut staff hours and/or wages, a figure Greer called “really significant.” Additionally, 46% of organizations surveyed have made changes to their staffing model, with 62% believing these changes are permanent. Overall, the the arts sector workforce is at 60% of the pre-COVID base, with wages at 68% of pre-pandemic levels.

The bottom line? There are far fewer Washingtonians working in the arts and culture sector now than before the pandemic. And those who remain do not earn the same salary as in “The Before Times”. This doesn’t even take into account freelance artists or artists who are not formally tied to an institution. And as a city experiencing a severe housing affordability crisis, Seattle is on the brink of a “cultural brain drain”, with creatives fleeing to cities where the cost of living is cheaper.

“I think there will be a bit of a short-term brain drain as some theater makers choose not to return,” said a King County nonprofit cultural organization cited in the study. “I think we will have a recovery, but it will take several years.”


Courtesy of Whim W’Him/Stefano Altamura

Misfortune and sadness aside, there was some hope in the study. 93% of respondents said arts organizations would be “very to somewhat important” to our state’s post-pandemic recovery.

ArtsFund made five recommendations centered on “the idea that arts and culture can be harnessed for social and economic transformation”. These include ~reimagining~ the role arts and culture play in economic recovery and encouraging cross-sector recreation. Highlighting the central role of pandemic relief funding, ArtsFund also called for legislation that funds the sector more sustainably.

They also recommended:

  • Protect culture workers by increasing wages
  • Broaden the definition and eligibility of employment
  • Make shit (my word, not theirs) more affordable
  • Focus on equity and access to both funding and the public, which Greer called “essential for our growth and recovery from the pandemic”
  • And finally, they recommended supporting the “safety nets” of cultural organizations, calling for increased public participation and better access to technology.

    Importantly, ArtsFund collected this data before the omicron wave sent COVID case numbers into the stratosphere. While the impact of recent COVID shutdowns and labor shortages will undoubtedly affect the arts sector now, the variant does not fundamentally change any of the study’s conclusions or recommendations.

    “All of these recommendations are really designed to strengthen this sector not just for omicron, but for any future uncertainty that will ensue,” Greer said. “We know it’s not the last, and there will be more uncertainty in the world in the future. We want to make sure the sector is prepared for it.”


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