hawkins@growyourgiving.org Individual & Family Giving

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arts: A Conversation with Randy Cohen

On the most recent episode of the Grow Your Giving podcast, Whitney Hosty, Senior Philanthropic Advisor, hosts Randy Cohen, Vice President of Research at Americans for the Arts. Whitney and Randy discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected arts organizations and artists across the country.

Listen to Whitney and Randy’s conversation online, in the iTunes store and on Google Play Music. Find a full transcription of the podcast episode below.

All episodes of the Grow Your Giving podcast can be found at greaterhorizons.org/podcast.

Are you interested in sharing your giving store on the Grow Your Giving podcast? Contact us at info@greaterhorizons.org.

Authored by: Ashley Hawkins, Content Specialist


Episode Transcription

Introduction:
Welcome to the Grow Your Giving podcast, powered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and our national entity Greater Horizons. We aim to make giving convenient and efficient for our donors through donor-advised funds and other charitable giving tools. The Grow Your Giving podcast discusses philanthropic topics to help you enjoy giving more. Find us online at growyourgiving.org.

Whitney Hosty:
Hi, I’m Whitney Hosty, senior philanthropic advisor with Greater Horizons and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. We’re recording today’s episode of Grow Your Giving podcast remotely. I’m delighted to be joined today by my guest, Randy Cohen, vice president of research at Americans for the Arts, the national advocacy organization for the arts, where he has been empowering the arts since 1991. Randy recently published Americans Speak Out About The Arts, a national study about the public’s opinions and participation in the arts and Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, an economic impact study of the nations’ nonprofit arts industry. We recently hosted Randy on a virtual donor education event about the impact of COVID-19 on arts organizations. We’re excited to hear him expand more on this topic today. Hello Randy, thank you for joining us.

Randy Cohen:
Thank you. Good to be with you.

Whitney Hosty:
Before we get started on a conversation, could you please provide some additional background on Americans for the Arts?

Randy Cohen:
Of course, so Americans for the Arts we’ve been around since 1960. This conspicuous year that we’re in is our 60th anniversary, but what Americans for the Arts does is we try to make sure everyone in this country has the opportunity to participate and engage in the arts. To attend, to go to museums locally, participate in creative arts events and festivals, murals, and also to make sure every child in this country is receiving a quality arts education. And we do that through three primary goal areas. One is resources, one of the reasons we’re here to talk today, right? Funding for the arts. We lead the federal advocacy efforts. In fact, our organization back in the early sixties was one of the primary institutions responsible for the establishment of the national endowment for the arts. We work with state arts agencies and local arts agencies as well as private sector.

Randy Cohen:
Donors like everybody listening today, and corporations, and foundations. Another thing we try to do is advance the value proposition for the arts, right? We all love the arts. They inspire us and engage us. They create the communities that we want to live in, but the fact is the arts are also improving our communities socially, educationally, economically. And so we try to craft that message. And then the third piece is leadership development and we do that two ways, through our grassroots army of 420,000 fiery arts advocates looking to advance the arts locally, and statewide, and across the country. But as well as kind of what we sometimes call the grass tops, our elected leaders, our business leaders, philanthropy leaders, people in this country who can pick up a phone or by virtue of their clout can really move the gauges for the arts. And so we’re headquartered in Washington DC, and we have an office in New York and we work across the country and primarily we work with our local arts agencies across the country, so like Arts KC for example.

Whitney Hosty:
Great. Thank you for the overview.

Randy Cohen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Whitney Hosty:
Now we know everyone’s lives have been changed and given your broad exposure to a variety of organizations throughout the country, could you tell us a little bit about how the national art sector has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Randy Cohen:
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s been devastating for the arts, and for artists, for arts organizations, and for the general public who loves to participate and engage in the arts. And what we’ve done is several large national studies looking at the impact on COVID-19 on arts organizations, as well as artists, and creative workers. And so for example, what we know the impact on the nonprofit arts and culture sector, 96% of organizations, so effectively, all of them, have had to cancel their events, cancel museum exhibitions, cancel performances, festivals have been canceled. And so effectively every organization that produces content, even if you’re an arts education organization, the schools are closed, right? Everybody has been hit and I can tell you, as of this week, arts organizations have lost an estimated 231 million admissions due to canceled events and that’s amounted to a $5.9 billion financial loss.

Randy Cohen:
That’s just for a nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. And so that’s been a huge, huge challenge. Some of the other things we’ve learned, and this is sort of based on surveys of over 12,000 organizational respondents, two-thirds of them have said in their surveys, this crisis is having a severe impact on our organization. A third have had to reduce staff, creative staff, administrative staff. 40% say they’re likely to reduce staff at some point here. And then really one of the troubling figures is 10% of organizations say they’re not confident that they’ll even survive the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, 10% you might think, well, I know, is that a lot or a little, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot. But there’s 120,000 nonprofit arts organizations out there and that means a potential loss of 12,000 organizations. Our organizations have been really hit very hard and I think the challenge has been first to close, last to open.

Randy Cohen:
And so they’re really struggling to even understand when can we start to produce art again? And when can we open up for business? Yet, one of the fascinating things is 67% of arts organizations in our surveys are still delivering artistic content to their community, to raise community spirits, to improve morale, to promote a greater social cohesion. And they’re doing that through distance-based art creation and distance-based presentation. And there’s about 2,500 museums now for example that have their collections fully available online, you can go to their websites and take free tours, free guided tours through their museum collection. Performances are on Facebook, even publishers have made literature novels available for free. All that said, the arts organizations are doing a lot to still reach the community.

Randy Cohen:
Now that’s the organizations, we’ve got another survey where we’re looking at the impact on artists and creative workers. And artists are among the most severely effected workers in the COVID-19 crisis. Their unemployment rates and impacts has just been among the highest. 94% report lost income, 62% of artists have said they have become fully unemployed as a result of the pandemic. And we’ve heard from 19,000 artists in our survey, the average artists and creative workers lost $21,000 to date, so you can really feel the pain, the challenge that they’re having and then there’s other ways that they’re being impacted as well. Two-thirds, 66%, tell us they’re unable to access the supplies, the resources, the spaces, the people necessary for their work. 80% don’t have a plan, a financial plan for the other side of this. It’s really been a devastating impact on artists. And we estimate at this point, artists nationally are going to lose $50.6 billion in income in 2020.

Whitney Hosty:
Wow. Those are some pretty amazing numbers. I will say, my family has certainly appreciated and enjoyed the creativity of many organizations. We’ve had a chance to do everything from dance classes to seeing an off-Broadway play from the comfort of our home. But thinking about the long term impact on everyone from the individuals to the larger organizations, it’s obviously going to take a pretty large response to help them recover from this. Can you speak a little bit about the federal response and advocacy work that you’ve been involved in with Americans for the Arts?

Randy Cohen:
Yes. We have been very active in that work and I always say what’s measured matters. If you want to make the arts relevant and part of these federal relief programs, we have to have the data. And so like those surveys that I just talked about, we got out of the gate very early during this pandemic, so we would be able to say with some statistical backing, here’s what’s happening to artists and arts organizations in this country. And what we know from the CARES Act for example, is how there was some modest financial investment and the National Endowment for the Arts received $75 million. National Endowment for the Humanities, $75 million, and it was about $300 million in total provided to those federal agencies, which in turn support our artists and our arts organizations. But that’s really just a small part of it because there’s the PPP, and the disaster relief, and the SBA loans, and the extended unemployment.

Randy Cohen:
And what we really worked hard to do was make sure that the arts and artists were part of those packages as well, because that’s billions of dollars. And they have been, we know thousands and thousands of arts organizations they’ve been able to get some of those PPP loans. And then we’re also working very actively in a professional development way with the field to make sure they understand how to turn those from loans into grants. And we work with our whole field, we lead a field. And one way we do that through that advocacy is our Arts Action Fund. And the Americans for the Arts, Arts Action Fund is under 501(c)(4), it’s the political organization. It’s the cousin organization, if you will, of Americans for the Arts. And that’s where a lot of the political action happens and emanates from. Because these days if you want to affect policy, you need constituents calling their members of Congress.

Randy Cohen:
And that’s certainly something everyone can do today is go to artsactionfund.org, and it’s free. It’s free to join, you can’t beat the price, and you’ll find all the policy updates there. And then when it’s time to take action, when it’s time to let your legislator know, hey it’s important to include the arts as part of these packages, or it’s important to include nonprofits. I know your listeners support a whole range of organizations in the community, but you know, none of that happens by itself and everybody’s got a job to do, to take action. And so this is a real simple way to get involved. And we have a 425,000-person advocacy army for the arts and it’s the numbers that give you the clout in Congress.

Whitney Hosty:
And I know that in addition to having some federal support for the arts, obviously philanthropy has been just long-time support for arts organizations and the arts sector in general. What type of response have you been seeing from the philanthropic community to needs of arts organizations?

Randy Cohen:
I think that the philanthropic community has certainly stepped up with the arts and what we see in communities across the country is artists relief funds for example, where donors have pooled their funds as a way to provide emergency grants for artists. Again the most severely affected segment of the US workforce are artists and you need the artists, there’s no art without the artists. And so we need to find a net, a safety net, to protect these workers. That’s certainly one of the really exciting ways that we’ve seen that. And I think what a lot of people have done, we all had tickets to something this year or this summer. Yeah. I was finally going to see Hamilton and I mean, I don’t know why because it’s like I’m the last guy to get around to seeing it at the Kennedy Center and of course it’s all canceled, right.

Randy Cohen:
It’s all postponed, probably to 2021. And so what a lot of arts organizations have done is asked those ticket buyers, hey, listen, it calls for a refund. However, if you turn that into a donation, this organization could really use it right now because arts organizations are just hurting. Like I said, close to $6 billion in losses already by the arts organizations. And then the other amazing thing about the arts is how they touch all these different aspects of our community. Again, they’re wonderful cultural amenities. We love the arts. They inspire us, they vitalize our downtowns, but they touch all these other areas of the community that we also pay attention to, so if you care about education, really who doesn’t, right? I mean, we’re all trying to get our kids to perform better academically.

Randy Cohen:
Well, the research is so clear that when the arts are part of a young person’s education, you’re seeing better test scores, better grade point averages, lower dropout rates. And those are findings that cut across all socioeconomic strata. Every child stands to benefit from having the arts as part of their education or take we’re in this challenging health crisis, so I personally, me Randy Cohen, I’ve got a theater background and that was my training. And I ran a theater company for some years and that was how I came up in the arts, but I also have a medical research background. I worked at Stanford University. I worked at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in the area of medical research. When I worked at Scripps every Tuesday at three o’clock, we used to have live chamber music in the lobby, and it was really beautiful and it completely transformed the space and patients would walk in there or be wheeled in there.

Randy Cohen:
They could bring their family along. Staff was welcome to attend as well if they were able to break away. And what we started to notice is that patients, patients that I would see in the rooms clinically lethargic, depressed, even if you have a view of the ocean, nobody wants to be in the hospital, right? But you could see physical transformation in people. Eyes got less cloudy, their posture got better, and you just sort of sense a greater awareness of the environment around them. And we used to all notice this and think something’s happening here. It’s like they’re getting an IV drip of the arts, right? And so there’s this growing body of research now that shows when the arts are part of our healthcare, we have shorter hospital stays, fewer doctor visits, less medication, less depression, evidence that it saves money.

Randy Cohen:
You may also care as a donor about your hospitals and your centers of care in the community, but the arts have a role there as well. And even economically, and here’s the interesting thing I think that’s so… where the arts are just going to be so relevant now, as we get to work our way to the other side of this pandemic, every community leader, every business leader, every elected leader is trying to figure out how do we jumpstart our economy? How do we get people out of their homes and into the community and spending money again? You know, going to these local businesses. And this is where the arts are a huge asset for our community leaders. Because think about the last time you went to an arts event did you sneak out of the house, tiptoe into the theater, see the show and run home before anybody saw you?

Randy Cohen:
Probably not. You may have went and had dinner first, paid for parking, and dessert or drinks after the show. And Whitney, if I remember, you’ve got little ones at home, you doubled the cost that evening on babysitting, right?

Whitney Hosty:
Exactly.

Randy Cohen:
There’s all this economic activity that takes place. Well, we did a national study where we interviewed 212,000 arts attendees, and we found the typical attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission. And it’s just on all that shopping we do, all those the ways we spend money and that’s what the arts do, the arts get us out into the community and they get us going to local businesses and frequenting local merchants. And so they’ve got an important economic role. And if you’re a donor and you support downtown redevelopment and you care about local businesses.

Randy Cohen:
That’s just another way that the arts are going to contribute. And let me just give you the flip side of that. The other reason the arts are kindling for the economy, right? Small investment, big returns. And that goes socially as well. And our communities were… there was a lot of polarization in the communities, but now with social distancing and people in isolation and everything. People are going to need to reconnect, reengage. And once again, this is the arts, they provide shared experiences in a public space. It’s a festival, it’s going to see Hamilton for the first, second, or third time, or it’s a community mural that we all make together and people don’t care who you voted for or where you practice your faith, right?

Whitney Hosty:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Randy Cohen:
It’s this inspiring, shared experience. And there’s research behind that as well. Every couple of years, I do a big national public opinion survey. Largest public opinion survey of the arts ever conducted and 72% of the American population says the arts unify our communities, regardless of age, race, or ethnicity. 73%, the arts helped me understand other cultures in my community. And what’s amazing about those findings is that they cut across all socioeconomic strata. It’s not an urban phenomenon, it’s not an affluence phenomenon. And so as we think, how do we heal our communities? How do we get to the other side of all these challenges we’re facing now. The arts have a central role in strengthening our communities.

Whitney Hosty:
Wow, thank you. You’ve mentioned so many important reasons why the arts are really just critical to our recovery. In addition to you’ve mentioned the Arts Action Fund, you mentioned donating any tickets that have been purchased. Any other suggestions about what donors or listeners might be able to do to help to support artists and arts organizations?

Randy Cohen:
Yes. Go see art, buy art, but also participate in the arts personally. And there’s a non-transactional thing possibly, but you know what, make the arts part of your life? Because when we get to the other side of this. When you’re involved personally in the arts, I think you’re going to want to be more connected to the arts. And that’s certainly is one, is so as arts organizations start to open up, attend, obviously donate. A lot of times we connect and we donate to a particular project, or it’s a series or something like that. I would encourage everybody to have grace and flexibility around now. And if something got canceled just say, hey, you know what, just turn it over to general operating support and keep the lights on, keep the building working.

Randy Cohen:
But really it’s a very challenging time. But when you make your donations, remember the arts, don’t forget the arts. And what we see happen sometimes is during prosperous social and economic times, contributions to the arts go up. But then when we see challenging economic times, people move their dollars elsewhere to kind of what they might consider essential services. And I would suggest to you, arts are an essential service. Because when you support the arts, you are supporting jobs, you are supporting education, healthcare, all the pressing issues in our communities. And so if you’ve been a donor to the arts, keep it up. And if you haven’t been a donor to the arts, you’re missing a great opportunity.

Whitney Hosty:
Thank you so much. I know we’re all just waiting for the day when we can safely get back out and get into our favorite galleries or go see a performance.

Randy Cohen:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Whitney Hosty:
And I really appreciate you sharing your time and expertise with us today. Thank you for joining us and sharing the importance of the arts to our community.

Randy Cohen:
Thank you. Thank you. Well I just want to remind everybody the arts aren’t just nice, they’re necessary. And also to thank everybody listening for everything you do to support the arts, it’s important and you’re important for doing it. Thanks for having me, Whitney.

Whitney Hosty:
All right. Thank you, Randy. And donors that have questions about supporting arts organizations with their charitable funds can contact our donor services team. Any listeners interested in setting up a new charitable fund to support arts organizations or other organizations in the community that they care about can learn more by visiting www.greaterhorizons.org. Thank you.

Conclusion:
To hear more from the Grow Your Giving podcast. Visit us online at greaterhorizons.org/podcast. Thank you for listening.