Image courtesy of Natya Dance Company, Chicago, IL. Photo credit: Amitava Sarkar Image courtesy of Natya Dance Company, Chicago, IL. Photo credit: Amitava Sarkar
“We were planning our return during COVID and thought it would come back to what it was. It never will be back to what it was. If we know folks aren’t coming back right away -- especially for new works -- how can we properly scale the operations and execution of them?” – Performing Arts Organization Leader, Spring 2023
While the COVID-19 public health emergency officially came to an end on May 11, 2023, there is a growing – rather than waning – sense of financial and operating crisis in the arts. Despite a 2022 uptick in many financial and operating trends, full recovery has not been swift nor is it guaranteed in the future. A look in the rearview mirror provides context for the underlying challenges that a lot of organizations are facing today. It shows why many organizations are experiencing crisis now: dwindling ticket sales, increased costs, and private donations that failed to keep pace with inflation. It also shows the temporary lifeline provided by government relief funding, impact on bottom line and working capital, as well as how different kinds of organizations are bucking trends and thriving.
In early 2023, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) contacted SMU DataArts for an examination of financial and operating trends among its applicant organizations from 2019 through 2022, and an analysis of whether they varied for organizations with different characteristics such as budget size, discipline, and mission focus that celebrates the culture of a specific population. This would be a first look at the health of many of the city’s arts and cultural organizations before, during, and emerging from the pandemic. At the time, many in the arts field anticipated a quick return to better days in 2023.
This project attempted to synthesize as much data as possible to understand a spectrum of trends from 2019 to 2022 for as many Chicago arts and cultural organizations as possible. The key findings from this analysis illuminate challenges and bright spots. Time will tell whether the resiliency exhibited by arts and cultural organizations in the wake of previous crises will prevail, or whether this proves to be a crisis like no other.
The executive summary of the report is also available from Chicago DCASE.
Several themes emerged within the financial and operating trends of the Chicago organizations analyzed, which resonate with those identified nationally.
Dwindling Audiences and Earned Revenue
Increased Costs, Shrinking Budgets
Private Donations Failed to Keep Pace with Inflation
Government Relief Proved Essential, Especially to the Performing Arts:
Bottom Line and Working Capital:
The report delves further into these local trends, how they relate to national patterns, and includes an analysis of whether they varied for organizations with different characteristics such as budget size, discipline, and mission focus that celebrates the culture of a specific population.
 The 2019, 2020, and 2022 levels are very similar to historical levels of trustee support for the average arts and cultural organization in markets nationally. See https://culturaldata.org/the-fundraising-report/by-source-indices/trends/
Commissioner, Chicago DCASE
“This report represents the first comprehensive look at the health of the city’s arts and cultural organizations before, during and emerging from the pandemic.”
Image courtesy of Qi Xi: A Chinese Love Story, Chinese Fine Arts Society, Chicago, IL. Photo by Michael Boyd. Image courtesy of Qi Xi: A Chinese Love Story, Chinese Fine Arts Society, Chicago, IL. Photo by Michael Boyd.