Survey Says: It’s Still Pretty Tough Out There

Laura Aden Packer, Program Director, Arts

It’s not easy being a nonprofit arts organization in New Jersey according to the latest results of a survey done by ArtPride/New Jersey, our state’s arts advocacy organization. And it’s really tough being an employee of a nonprofit arts company. Ann Marie Miller, ArtPride’s Executive Director, surveyed the arts field back in February, at the height of the economic downturn. She re-surveyed the field in early September and the results were quite interesting, although not surprising.

An excellent cross-section of organizations responded, 139 in all. This cohort:

  • Had budgets ranging from under $100,000 to over $10 million.
  • Had great geographic distribution: 28% of the respondents were organizations based in south Jersey; 33% central Jersey; and 39% north Jersey.
  • Was diverse: one-third focused on performing arts, one-third on community/arts education; 19% were visual arts oriented; and 13% were service organizations and/or local arts councils.

Here are some of the key findings from the survey:

Income:

Earned income (such as ticket sales) has stayed relatively flat – that’s the good news. 56% reported a decrease in foundation support; 63% received decreased support from corporations (32% of which were down by 25% or more); 77% saw less government dollars (not surprising, considering the New Jersey State Council on the Arts suffered a 25% cut this year); and 46% reported that support from individuals had declined.

Programming:

  • 27% had eliminated some programs; 28% had decreased programming
  • 92 programs, 20 exhibitions, 18 productions and 127 performances had been cancelled. And what was most frequently cited as eliminated? Free programs in the schools.

Staffing:

  • 39% of organizations had reduced their staff in the prior six months; 17% more expected to within the next six months.
  • 132 positions had been eliminated, running the gamut from receptionist to executive director.
  • 29% had reduced administrative hours and/or hours open to the public. An additional 17% expected to do so in the next six months.
  • Many organizations reported using salary decreases, furloughs, reduced hours and moving from 5-day to 4-day work weeks (with 20% cuts in pay) as strategies for survival.

Finances:

  • 40% predicted that they would not have a deficit in FY ’09. 25% weren’t sure yet. 35% thought they would have an ’09 deficit.
  • Organizations were predicting anywhere from a 10% to a 50% cut in their operating budgets for 2010.

But arts organizations are beginning to feel a bit more optimistic. When asked back in February what they thought the future would hold, 63% thought things would get worse in the next six months. By September, only 26% were thinking things were going to get worse; a healthy group of glass half-fullers – 28% – thought the economic climate would get better.

What kinds of measures did your organization take during the height of the economic crisis to contain costs and secure future financial stability? Which strategies worked and why? Which ones didn’t? Are you more optimistic now about the future of your organization than you were six months ago? What do you think the future holds for public funding of the arts in the next year? Leave your comments for us below – they could be extremely helpful to your fellow nonprofit organizations.

To find out more about our state’s arts community, visit ArtPride’s website. There you will find all kinds of up-to-date information, including the answers to questions regarding the arts that ArtPride posed to the three major candidates for governor. There is also a link to the gubernatorial debate which took place on Thursday, October 22 and was aired on WBGO and other public television stations. A question about arts funding was featured prominently, and the responses from the candidates are quite informative about their perspective on the importance of the arts and state arts funding.

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2 Responses to Survey Says: It’s Still Pretty Tough Out There

  1. Thanks, Laura, for posting the survey results. NJ arts groups continue to amaze me with their resilience and creativity. They are weathering the storm as best as can be expected. The question I have been asked over the past few days is when we will begin to see the cumulative effect of this recession with loss of programs, services and capacity.

  2. Gina Sideris says:

    Thanks for posting this snapshot of the NJ arts community, and how different groups are bearing up under the recession. The arts community has great resilience and creativity, and their love of the arts will give them the impetus to hang on for as long as possible. The sad part is that the arts community is so adept at making the state of bare survival look actually good, that the population at large seems to forget about restoring the many cuts that have been made. On a stranger note, some arts managers who are very proud of their resourcefulness even embrace the climate of negative resource trending as a challenge (if you’ve ever had to tell someone that they’ve been laid off, you’ll know how strange and counterproductive that mindset is, but it does exist.)

    We won’t see the cumulative loss of programs, services and capacity until the NEXT economic downturn, when organizations that never quite recovered are forced to go under.

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