The Strengths and Weaknesses of Nonprofit Arts Organizations

by Dr. Alicia Schatteman

When we all had to isolate ourselves from one another, we all turned to the arts to keep us sane amidst the uncertainty. We binged Netflix, watched SNL Home Edition, turned to TikTok videos, took up online dance lessons, and much more. The Americans for the Arts is partnering on a new international study to measure the mental health impact of COVID-19 and social distancing on the American public and is seeking volunteers to participate via online surveys. Participate in this study here.

Museums are part of the arts and culture sector that also includes theatres, historic sites, symphonies, and much more.  In good economic times, government and the businesses often view the arts as a vital economic development tool that can enhance communities and improve the quality of life. However, during economic downturns, like the unprecedented one we are in right now, the arts are typically seen as discretionary spending by the public for charitable contributions and historically are among the first programs to experience reductions in government support as well.

Today is International Museum Day, traditionally celebrated on May 18 for the past 40 years.  Last year, more than 37,000 museums participated in the event in about 158 countries and territories.  Museums have been closed for COVID19 and I’ve been personally impressed with the level of engagement they continue to do regardless of physical separation.

Beyond their regular missions, museums are also going above and beyond to support what is happening around the world to battle COVID19.  For example, several Chicago museums are harnessing the power of technology to assist with creating protective equipment, and assisting with COVID19 testing analysis, doing research to help with our understanding of the virus.

But shifting their attention to virtual engagement and supporting broader societal issues related to COVID19 has financial costs.  According to the American Alliance of Museums in this recent article, American museums are losing at least $33 million a day because of continuing closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Losses in Illinois were expected to top $7.3 million in revenues through April 30 based on responses from 56 museums and galleries in a statewide survey conducted by Arts Alliance Illinois.”

82% - 87% of Americans value the arts

The arts were there for us during the pandemic.  I hope we can all remember to be there for the arts during and after this pandemic.   The people in the arts are not monolithic. They range from artists to producers, singers to lightening crews, set designers to marketers, costume makers to cleaning crews, and much more.  Over 150,000 nonprofit arts organizations exist across the United States, big and small.  I don’t want to think about a world without the arts.  In the darkest times, it’s the music, the words, the paintings that see us through.  Support the arts yourself and support funding of the arts so everyone can share the richness.

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