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National Arts and Culture Impact Survey: Organizations Report

February 24, 202124 February 2021

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the arts

Consortium of 30 arts service organizations


PRA Inc.

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This Canadian survey received responses from 728 arts organizations in November of 2020. A margin of error cannot be estimated due to the non-random survey method. In the survey sample, there is likely underrepresentation of organizations based in Quebec and British Columbia and likely overrepresentation of Ontario and Alberta-based organizations. The report notes that “the data was not altered to assess the representativeness of those organizations who responded to the survey”.

Respondents work in a variety of arts disciplines, with the highest proportions working in music (52%), theatre (39%), arts presentation (33%), and dance (32%). Most are not-for-profit organizations (69%, including 46% that are charities), while 8% are for-profit businesses and 5% are run by a municipality.

Most surveyed arts organizations (72%) continued with some form of programming during the three months preceding the survey (i.e., August to October 2020). There were organizations providing digital-only programming (35%), in-person-only programming (10%), and both digital and in-person programming (27%).

Respondents identified many obstacles faced during the three months prior to the survey, most commonly “government regulations related to public health orders” (selected by 70%), “uncertainty of the government response in order to plan effectively” (67%), “staff stress or burnout” (64%), “financial constraints” (55%), “fluctuations in demand for services” (49%), and “lack of capacity to adapt to the current reality” (48%).

The pandemic has had a major impact on organizations with staff working from home. Compared with the 22% of respondents who had staff work from home before the pandemic, 65% do so now, and 42% expect to continue to do so when physical distancing guidelines are lifted.

There has been a major increase in stress and anxiety levels during the pandemic: 31% of organizational respondents reported very high levels of stress and anxiety in November of 2020, compared with just 3% before the pandemic.

Regarding “pivoting to digital programming and practices”, the survey finds that:

  • 82% of responding organizations are “interested in or already exploring [digital] opportunities”
  • 65% agree that digital opportunities are “a necessary aspect of [their] practice or operations”
  • 54% believe that digital programming will advance their artistic practice
  • 50% have “the knowledge required to go digital”

Regarding funding or support from public agencies during the previous three years (i.e., 2018 to 2020), the most commonly selected source is municipal funding (66%), followed by provincial arts councils (56%), the Canada Council for the Arts (49%), and the Department of Canadian Heritage (48%). About one in every nine respondents (11%) received no public funding or support during this timeframe.

When asked about pandemic-related supports, 55% of respondents indicated that they had accessed or intended to access the Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage, and Sport Organizations, 51% had accessed or intended to access the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and 35% had accessed or intended to access the Canada Emergency Business Account. Just 12% had accessed or intended to access the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance/Subsidy.

The survey findings show that uncertainty about the future is pervasive in the Canadian arts sector. When asked whether their organization is “under serious threat of permanent closure/ceasing operations as a result of COVID-19”, 34% of respondents indicated that they are “still assessing the situation”. Among respondents, 1% expect to close within the next six months, while 2% have already closed or are in the process of closing. In a separate question, 16% of organizations strongly disagreed with the statement that their “organization is financially prepared for a second wave of COVID-19” (which had not yet taken hold as of November 2020).

During the three months following the survey, 45% of respondents expected to reduce the number of artists hired, while only 16% expected to increase hiring of artists. Similarly, 40% of respondents expected to reduce their productions, events, and exhibition staff, while only 11% expected to increase hiring in these areas.

Respondents were asked two questions about their optimism for recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, one concerning the recovery of their own organization and the other concerning the recovery of the arts sector as a whole. Two-thirds of organizational respondents (67%) were optimistic about the ability of their own organization to recover, but only 42% were optimistic about the ability of the arts and culture sector across Canada to recover.

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