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The Toronto Fallout Report

Half a year in the life of COVID-19

January 13, 202113 January 2021

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the arts

Toronto Foundation

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This broad-based report covers ten focus areas, one of which is arts, culture, and recreation. Based on the Toronto Nonprofit Survey, select interviews with key informants, Statistics Canada data, and other sources, this report applies “an equity lens to the identification of data and issues” and aims to provide “key insights for an equitable recovery”. Focussed on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on not-for-profit organizations “with substantial operations in Toronto”, the Toronto Nonprofit Survey received 286 partial and complete responses in late July and August of 2020. The survey was distributed to the Toronto Foundation’s grantees and other contacts, as well as via social media and “select funder organizations that work in Toronto”. Given the non-random survey design, it is uncertain to what extent the survey results provide a representative sample of Toronto’s not-for-profit organizations.

The report stresses the “importance of culture-specific programming” while people are physical distancing. As noted by an interviewee, “the arts are necessary in the good times, but even more so in the difficult times”. The report highlights new or expanded arts and culture offerings from the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Library during the pandemic.

Two key findings of the report are that “arts and culture organizations are among the hardest hit of all nonprofits” and that “workers in this sector have also been hit incredibly hard”:

  • The not-for-profit survey found that the median decline in revenues was 50% for arts and culture organizations, compared with an average of 35% for other types of organizations.
  • The not-for-profit survey found that one-half of arts and culture organizations are either in poor financial health (32%) or “at risk of permanent closure” (18%). These percentages are much higher than those for other types of organizations (21% in poor financial health and 10% at risk of permanent closure).
  • Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey data from August 2020 indicates that Ontario-based workers in “arts, culture, recreation and sport” saw a 34% decrease in overall hours worked compared with August of 2018, more than any other main occupation group and much worse than the provincial average (a 7% decrease). The next hardest hit occupation groups are workers in manufacturing and utilities as well as workers in sales and service, each of which saw a 14% decrease in hours worked.

The report highlights perspectives from equity-seeking groups regarding the pandemic. For example, one interviewee provided perspective on what is often called the “unprecedented” nature of the pandemic: “Disease epidemics are not new for Indigenous people. There’s a deep history of disease epidemics here in Turtle Island, and so there’s a lot of intergenerational trauma being triggered right now by the COVID-19 pandemic”. Another interviewee noted that many arts organizations operate on “razor-thin budgets, and COVID just added to the financial pressure”.

Regarding online activities, the not-for-profit survey found that many arts and culture organizations “have pivoted online with some success stories, particularly for larger organizations. But fee revenue for online programming cannot match that generated from the live experience, and access to these virtual experiences is limited for many.” The report concludes that “creativity alone cannot fill the gaps in revenue needed to sustain the sector”.

As for the future, most arts and culture survey respondents “predicted that 2021 would be a difficult year”. The report cites other surveys that indicate that “arts organizations will have trouble reopening due to public reticence to gather and the reduced income of online events”.

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