The Employment and Financial Loss of the Nonprofit Arts Industry

The pandemic has had a major impact on the arts and culture industry, which is slowly recovering from the absence of events since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

According to Greg Guibert and Ian Hyde in COVID-19 impacts on the arts and culture, “Economically, arts and culture contribute 4.5% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), an amount larger than the share contributed by industries as diverse as construction, agriculture, and transportation.”


U.S. artists and creative workers are greatly impacted by the pandemic.

Johns Hopkins University reports that despite recent improvement, as of June 2021 the U.S. nonprofit workforce still remained down by nearly 700,000 total jobs compared to its estimated pre-pandemic level. These lost jobs include 21% of all pre-pandemic workers in nonprofit arts and entertainment organizations.

  • The 2.5 million employed people in the U.S. arts, entertainment and recreation sector had declined to 1.2 million by April 2020. Numbers have slowly recovered to 1.97 million as of May 2021.
  • During the pandemic’s peak, 95% of the individuals in these positions lost creative income. 63% also experienced total unemployment during the period of the most cases of the virus in 2020.

Financial Loss

As employed nonprofit arts workers lost their own income, the arts and culture industry had an immense financial loss as a whole.

  • Reported in 2019, this industry brought in $919.7 billion in that year alone.
  • Due to the cancelations of 557 million ticketed events, U.S. arts and culture organizations loss $17.97 billion as of July 2021.
  • An additional $17.6 billion was lost in audience ancillary spending at local restaurants and businesses, parking, lodging costs and retail purchases. Local government revenue losses are $6 billion also due to the many cancellations.


In response to COVID, arts organizations, artists and performers have adapted—changing the physical environment for safer in-person engagements or securing outdoor spaces for events.

However, the experiential and in-person nature of the performing arts has made it difficult to sustain as many venues have remained closed, or on limited operations. While social distancing saves lives, social isolation and loneliness are serious public health concerns. 

COVID measures contribute to the economic toll on the sector, especially for nonprofit arts organizations—which lose revenue from stay-at-home orders and gathering restrictions, and declines in arts-related giving.

The arts industry stands at a crossroads.

A vaccine is available, yet the Delta variant surges. Local solutions to sustain this sector—and ultimately shaping it post-pandemic—depend on leveraging all that local arts organizations, schools, public and private sectors, foundations and communities can bring together during a time of urgent need.

The Omaha Mobile Stage project is aimed at providing a safe performing arts environment directly in Omaha neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. Learn more here.

Image Credit Edwin Hooper

All information and statistics found in this article is from Americans for the Arts in COVID-19’s Pandemic’s Impact on The Arts: Research Update July 26, 2021 unless stated with another source.

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