Primary tabs

COVID-19 Impact on the Arts and Culture Sector in Greater Philadelphia

Summary of Research and Analysis Completed from October 2020 - June 2021

Over the course of several months, the Cultural Alliance conducted two surveys to begin to understand the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic was having on the nonprofit arts and culture sector in Greater Philadelphia.

266 organizations, including GPCA members, COVID-19 Arts Aid PHL grantees and other organizations participated in the surveys. In addition to data gathered via surveys, the Cultural Alliance used previous data it had gathered about its member organizations to further estimate the effects of the pandemic on the cultural sector at-large.

Survey #1: October - November 2020

In this initial survey, the Cultural Alliance began to see the damaging effects of the pandemic -- already, the 214 organization’s surveyed had lost $130.7 million in revenue by September 2020.

Other key findings from this initial survey included:

  • 90% of respondents said general operating support was their top financial need
  • 35% of organizations had reduced staff hours
  • 41% at this time had fully virtual programming
  • Organizations of all types and sizes shifted their programs to meet the needs of the communities they serve, creating mobile markets and food pantries, developing hybrid theater models and embracing their outdoor spaces

Survey #2 January - February 2021

In March 2021, we released our second report on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Several key findings emerged, previewing a financial and workforce crisis for arts and culture as well as a devastating impact on the Philadelphia region’s long-term prospects for recovery.

Report Highlights:

  • The estimated total revenue loss for the entire Greater Philadelphia arts and culture sector from March 2020 - March 2021 is $371.7 million.
  • 41% of responding organizations are not likely to survive beyond Fall 2021 on current contributed and earned income streams.
  • 6,569 cultural workers lost work as a result of the pandemic. 2,452 workers were laid off or furloughed, 801 workers have reduced hours and 3,316 contractors have had their work cancelled or significantly reduced.
  • 38% of organizations have cancelled or significantly reduced their social impact programming serving vulnerable populations.

Additional Analysis: May and June 2021

In preparation for advocating for funding for arts and culture with city and state governments, the Cultural Alliance took the current data from this year’s surveys and compared it against baseline figures and models built from the Cultural Alliance’s previous studies on economic impact (Agenda: Prosperity in 2017 and previous Prosperity reports) and organizational health (Portfolio 2015 and previous versions).

Findings from the surveys were analyzed using an economic impact model built for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance in 2017 (an update will be done in 2023) by economists at Georgia Tech as part of the nationwide Arts and Economic Prosperity study involving over 300 communities. Two key necessary inputs are organization expenditures and attendance. The Cultural Alliance collected data on organization budgets and expenditures via a set of surveys in 2020 and modelled data for non-respondents based on budget size, discipline, and previous findings on the sector from the Cultural Alliance's Portfolio series of reports on organizational health. We also collected data on attendance from published reports in 2020. It seems likely that attendees in 2020 made less ancillary purchases due to COVID-19 restrictions, but we did not have data to allow us to adjust per person spending figures, so the overall audience spending decline may in fact have been even greater than our estimate. Our estimate is based on the best data we have available.

Key findings included:

  • 29,000 full time jobs (FTEs) – accounting for both direct and indirect jobs generated in the sector – are missing from Philadelphia’s regional economy as a result of the pandemic.
  • Audience spending in the 5-county Philadelphia region by arts and cultural attendees plummeted in one year from $892 million in 2019-2020 to $208 million in 2020-2021.
  • The total economic loss from COVID-19 on the arts and culture sector in the 5-county Philadelphia region – inclusive of direct and indirect economic impact – is $2.33 billion. (2019-2020: $4.27B v. 2020-2021: $1.9B). This is a decline of 55% of arts and cultural organizations’ impact on their communities.

Looking Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet over, and the impact of this crisis will continue to affect arts and culture organizations in our region and around the country for months and years to come. Experts are predicting an even slower recovery (26.8 months) following the pandemic compared to the 2008 recession, assuming no additional assistance to organizations.

The Cultural Alliance will continue to look at how COVID-19 has impacted finances, workforce, programming and more both at cultural organizations and the region at-large over the coming months and years. If you have any feedback or suggestions about our upcoming research, email Kristen Vinh at or use this form to submit feedback.