UWM research spotlights pandemic’s impact on the arts

Nonprofit organizations in the arts face significant challenges as they try weathering fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report from the Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management at UWM found that 40% of arts nonprofits in Wisconsin have been forced to provide programs or services at a “severely reduced” capacity. The median financial impact per organization surveyed in the report was a loss of $30,000.

Some organizations already have started canceling performances or events in 2021. Less programming means less revenue and a potential drop in donations, which can lead to a trickle-down effect for hotels, restaurants and other businesses that would draw customers from arts patrons.

The report focusing on arts, cultures and humanities organizations is part of the institute’s series of surveys examining the pandemic’s impact on Wisconsin nonprofits and the important roles they play in supporting communities.

“You look at the festivals here in Milwaukee, and of course, everybody knows they’re fun,” said Bryce Lord, the institute’s associate director. “But you don’t think about the economic indicators that organizations like these bring to the city. The hotels, the restaurants and the bars all benefit from it.”

Overall, 1 in 12 Wisconsin employees work at a nonprofit, representing $14.6 billion in annual wages. Looking only at arts nonprofits, the study found that 55% had reduced paid staff at least somewhat, while 87% had similarly cut their volunteer workforce.

At the same time, the report noted some ways arts organizations continue to serve their communities. For instance, live performances are being streamed online and museums are providing online tours of their exhibits.

“The more we’re able to change that mindset that these aren’t just entertainment organizations but actual economic drivers,” Lord said, “the more we can do to help them rebound from this pandemic.”

The research is being conducted in partnership with UW-Whitewater’s Institute for Nonprofit Management Studies and affiliated faculty throughout the UW System.

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