(Photo: Edith Rousselot)

Arts education organizations, small venues, and community-based organizations are suffering the most in New York City’s nonprofit art sector due to Covid-19, a new study shows.

The study, conducted by NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs, SMU DataArts, and Americans for Arts, surveyed over 810 cultural organizations on the direct impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their operations. The survey ran from April 24 through May 8, and shines light on the difficult circumstances nonprofit arts organizations have faced since the lockdown in March. 

The overall financial impact on the city’s arts orgs amounted to $550 million, including both revenue losses and unanticipated expenses. A total of 15,149 people— some 21 percent of staff at museums and institutions, as well as individual artists— were laid off or furloughed at the respondent organizations due to the health crisis. Looking at larger trends, the report predicts that an average organization will run a deficit of 26 percent in the next year.

Layoffs and furloughs have an impact on both those who went unemployed and those who remain on-staff. While the former struggle to keep afloat during personal financial crises, the latter worry about their health. “The coronavirus has been particularly hard on the health and morale of our essential staff,” a respondent states in the report. “This is especially true for our security staff who are responsible for protecting our facility and collection. “They have regularly been working 12-hour shifts under difficult circumstances and commuting on public transit.”

Statistics from the report show that art education-based organizations were the hardest hit by revenue and employment loss. Collectively, they have lost 18 percent of their annual operating revenue, and a decrease of over 2,100 artists, or 78 percent of artist staffing as of May 8. This suggests a grim future for the already modest state of art education. New York City’s 2021 budget, released June 30, included a $15 million funding cut (roughly 30 percent) for art education services in the Department of Education budget. Additionally, the Department of Cultural Affairs, which commissioned the pandemic impact survey and sponsors nearly 1,300 New York nonprofits, will lose $23 million compared to their record $212 million funding in 2020.

Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s operating budget comes from on-site music lessons, music therapy, music education programs at public schools and senior centers, as well as charitable contributions. Since the lockdown, the organization has worked hard to launch remote learning programs, the Center for an Urban Future reported in April. However, challenges like adopting new pedagogical methods and adjusting to new technologies have resulted in a loss of revenue and productivity. It was also forced to cancel its annual spring fundraiser. 

The report named Laundromat Project, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, and Bangladesh Institute of Performing Arts as community arts and education organizations that have been similarly impacted.

Across the board, the pandemic has had a lot more significant impact on small organizations. The report shows venues with budgets under $250,000 losing 20 to 30 percent of their annual revenue, with 20 percent of annual expenses being unanticipated ones. Meanwhile, larger organizations suffer a 15 percent loss of annual income and a two percent increase in incurred new expenditures. 

The Center for an Urban Future’s report stated that the Staten Island Children’s Museum projected a loss of nearly 30 percent of the museum’s $2.2 million annual operating budget. The pandemic has forced the museum, with 50 employees, to dip into its financial reserves while remaining concerned about the future outlook of its hands-on, interactive learning methods.

Respondents to the DCA’s survey reported drops in in-person attendance, but the report pointed out that some organizations have seen positive aspects of online programming. “We’re accessing a larger local and national audience that didn’t have access to our public programs,” a respondent stated. However, 11 percent of respondents, mostly small venues and performing arts organizations, expressed pessimism about surviving the pandemic.

Citing responses from young people of color from low income backgrounds and minority cultural communities, the report concludes that certain communities in the industry face disparate impact. “Whether the disproportionate health impact of Covid-19 on communities of color, fears of organization insolvency for smaller groups, or hiring and layoff decisions hitting hardest for the most diverse job categories in the cultural workforce, policy-makers and all those who contribute to and participate in New York City’s vibrant cultural life must come together to reckon with these impacts together.”