Washington arts organizations expected to exhaust funds by November

Sep 6, 2020, 8:01 AM
General view of awning during 'Together Live' at The Moore Theater on October 12, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Together Live)
(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Together Live)

According to the findings of a survey conducted by 4Culture and 13 partner organizations based in Washington state, the operating budgets for the arts and culture sector will run out earlier than expected. Out of 483 arts and culture organizations surveyed, 75% report that their operating budget will be depleted by the end of November 2020.

The goal of the survey was to identify needs for both individuals and organizations in the arts for the remaining reopening phases. More than 80% of those surveyed do not even expect to reopen until Phase 3 or later.

Seattle arts learning to adjust in the age of the pandemic

The majority of the organizations surveyed are located in King County (68%) and 13% self-identify as tribal or POC-centered. Unfortunately, among those at highest risk of closure are tribal or POC-centered groups as 58% have between two and six months of operating cash available.

The survey also included 753 individuals artists and creatives — 65% of whom were in King County, and 9% self-identify as Black, Indigenous, or both. The survey found that 33% described their work as arts education, and the absence of this education is expected to impact Washington for years to come.

A total of 63% of organizations reported annual revenues of less than $250,000 in the survey. Of those, 68% estimate needing an additional $10,000 or less to reopen.

“We don’t have cash, insider connections, credit lines or access to financial resources to make things happen quickly or easily,” said Bennyroyce Royon, artistic director of the Evergreen City Ballet. “In June I tallied my reopen expenses under $5000. But within the week, a slew of unanticipated expenses crept in. A $10,000 reopening budget sounds doable right now. But, if I am being really honest, I just don’t know anything for sure.”

To date, the Evergreen City Ballet has lost more than $130,000 in revenue and expenses since the first reopening phase.

“Most of our revenue comes from the Nutcracker and I still haven’t figured out how to reconcile that,” Royon said. “I know we won’t make budget, frankly I am working on a few different budgets right now depending on what scenario I have to follow. I just don’t know what will happen next. It’s terrifying.”

Only 30% of groups in the state say they are “somewhat confident” they will have the resources to reopen within their allowed phase, and 27% in King County say they are “slightly or not at all confident” they will have what they need. Among the resources needed are technical assistance and funding for staffing, space, and facility modifications.

Karen Lane, the executive director of the Seattle Men and Women’s Choruses, says federal support is crucial for arts organizations to survive.

“There may be a public perception that, because we have a larger operating budget, we are safe,” Lane said. “I am here to say, no arts org is safe!”

Those with live performances are facing even longer timelines to reopen in most cases. Lane thought a 3-6 month shutdown would be survivable, but now they’re looking at a 12-18 month shutdown.

“Many of us will not return,” Lane said. “Yes, many jobs will be lost forever but so will the role we have played as community health and wellness partners. I don’t want that fact to get lost or forgotten. Art lifts spirits and gives hope. I implore everyone, especially government officials, to closely examine sustainable solutions for the creative sector.”

The arts and culture sector was among the first to shut down in March when COVID-19 hit, and will be one of the last to reopen.

“We must do everything possible to help our small businesses and arts and cultural organizations emerge from the crisis alive, well, and ready to put thousands of people back to work,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “By carefully and thoughtfully helping with rent, payroll and other expenses, we can help ensure that more of our cultural touchstones survive and continue to contribute to the vitality of our region.”

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Washington arts organizations expected to exhaust funds by November