SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


COVID-19 Impact on Nonprofit Arts and Culture in New York City

As reported between April 24th and May 8th, 2020. Prepared for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, June 26, 2020, by Daniel Fonner, Associate Director for Research, SMU DataArts and Zannie Voss, Director, SMU DataArts.

Executive Summary 

The sudden spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has disrupted industries and caused social and economic shock around the globe. The nonprofit arts and culture sector has been profoundly affected by these developments and faces severe challenges in the coming months and years of recovery. Many organizations have been forced to close their doors and suspend programming while attempting to continue serving their communities and providing resources to their employees.


To understand the direct impact on the nonprofit arts and culture sector in New York City to date, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), Americans for the Arts (AFTA), and SMU DataArts partnered to survey and report on the financial, staffing, and programmatic effects of COVID-19 felt across New York City.[1] The survey period ran from April 24th through May 8th, 2020 and tracked 810 respondents’ self-reported impact estimates. Organizations identified the timeframe of their estimates beginning from the start of the lockdown in March 2020, with about 80% of organizations estimating impact through June 30th, 2020 and others estimating up to January 1st, 2021. It is important to acknowledge that COVID-19-related developments occurring after the close of the survey on May 8th are not reflected in the response data.


Key Insights

For definitions of terms used here, see Appendix A – Sector Definitions.

  • Ninety-five percent of organizations canceled programs, 88% modified delivery of their programs, and as of May 8th, 11% were not providing products or services to their communities.
  • Small organizations with budgets under $250,000 have been hardest hit by the impact relative to their annual financial figures. In three months, they incurred losses relative to 20%-30% of annual revenue and incurred unanticipated expenses equivalent to about 20% of annual expenses.
  • By contrast, larger organizations incurred revenue losses of about 15% of annual operating revenue and unanticipated expenses equivalent to roughly 2% of annual expenses.
  • Performing arts organizations reported an 18% loss of revenue (11% from admissions) along with 3% more unanticipated expenses relative to annual expenses. The performing arts are further hampered by lower levels of Working Capital, only having liquidity to cover 2.1 months of expenses at the start of the crisis.
  • Community organizations (e.g., cultural & ethnic awareness, folk arts, community celebrations) are in a similar situation with reported losses of 12% as of the close of this survey, unanticipated expenses of 12%, and the lowest level of Working Capital relative to expenses at 1.6 months heading into the crisis.
  • Over 25% of responding organizations stated that they have reduced their levels of employment. This corresponds to 15,149 people being laid off or furloughed at these organizations due to COVID-19, or 21% of the staff and artist workforce.
  • Artist staffing levels have borne the brunt of employment decreases relative to regular annual employment. Some of the greatest reductions to artist employment have come from Arts Education organizations, which collectively reported decreases of over 2,100 artists, or 78% of artist staffing, during this period.
  • Nearly 100% of responding organizations stated that in-person attendance has dropped, for an aggregate loss in attendance of 16,439,818 patrons, or 35% of annual attendance.
  • Additional research conducted by SMU DataArts projects that from March 2020 to February 2021, the average arts and culture organization can expect a deficit of 26%.
  • 11% of organizations indicated that they do not think they will survive the COVID-19 crisis, with smaller organizations (budgets under $250,000) and performing arts organizations feeling greatest likelihood of insolvency.
  • The full negative financial impact of revenue losses and unanticipated expenses reported by respondents totaled roughly $550,000,000.


The overall picture is dire with regard to both the short- and long-term stability of arts and culture organizations in New York City. But there have also been some glimmers of hope. Across digital platforms, arts and culture organizations are finding new ways to interact with audiences, and people are creating art in new ways in our new socially distanced world. Cultural organizations have also risen to the occasion to prove that cultural groups are resource hubs for their communities.


As we continue to navigate through daily COVID-19-related difficulties, the arts and culture sector must also address disparate impact faced by certain communities. Whether confronting the disproportionate health impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, fears of organization insolvency, or hiring and layoff decisions making staff at institutions less diverse, our sector, policy-makers, and all those who contribute to the vibrant arts and culture scene in New York City must come together to protect the sector and give it a chance to thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.


Download the Full Report


The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) is dedicated to supporting and strengthening New York City’s vibrant cultural life. DCLA works to promote and advocate for quality arts programming and to articulate the contribution made by the cultural community to the City’s vitality. The Department represents and serves non-profit cultural organizations involved in the visual, literary, and performing arts; public-oriented science and humanities institutions including zoos, botanical gardens, and historic and preservation societies; and creative artists at all skill levels who live and work within the City’s five boroughs. DCLA also provides donated materials for arts programs offered by the public schools and cultural and social service groups, and commissions permanent works of public art at City-funded construction projects throughout the five boroughs. For more information, visit



Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of 60 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at



SMU DataArts, the National Center for Arts Research, is a joint project of the Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. SMU DataArts compiles and analyzes data on arts organizations and their communities nationwide and develops reports on important issues in arts management and patronage. Its findings are available free of charge to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public. The vision of SMU DataArts is to build a national culture of data-driven decision-making for those who want to see the arts and culture sector thrive. Its mission is to empower arts and cultural leaders with high-quality data and evidence-based resources and insights that help them to overcome challenges and increase impact. Publications include white papers on culturally specific arts organizations, the egalitarian nature of the arts in America, gender equity in art museum directorships, protecting organizations through downturns, and more. SMU DataArts also publishes reports on the health of the U.S. arts and cultural sector and the annual Arts Vibrancy Index, which highlights the 40 most arts-vibrant communities around the country.


[1]. The Department of Cultural Affairs press release announcing this project can be viewed here: 

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