Effects of the Economic Recession on the Folk & Traditional Arts

In February 2009, an ad hoc volunteer task force, spearheaded by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), the Fund for Folk Culture (FFC), and the National Council for the Traditional Arts, was formed to develop a survey for the folk and traditional arts field about the impact of the recession.  Staff from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Washington State Commission on the Arts Folk & Traditional Arts Program, the Western Folklife Center and independent folklorist Pat Jasper offered additional input as the survey developed.  Surale Phillips (Decision Support Partners) and Jerry Yoshitomi (MeaningMatters, LLC) assisted the group in survey design, data processing, tabulation and interpretation of results.  The survey was distributed online for a time limited time in early-2009.  The survey represents the experiences of a broad cross-section of people and organizations involved in the folk and traditional arts at a challenging moment in time.  It provides a view of how people and organizations are faring and how they are impacted by the current economic recession.

The results have been shared with the national task force of arts organizations advising the Obama Transition Team, as well as with the National Endowment for the Arts which requested data from each of the arts disciplines.

The results are summarized below; also available for download are the full national report, the full California report, and raw survey data. California artists and organizations responded in force, making up over 38% of the total national pool.  Many thanks to The New Moon readers who responded!  The California findings largely parallel the national data.

The survey indicated five key findings:

1.  The health of California’s living cultural heritage is at risk—as overall income declines and job loss increases among artists, practitioners, cultural organizations, and funders.

Income Decline

•  73% (74% nationally) of all respondents reported a decrease in overall income for 2008.

•  84% (86% nationally) expect overall income to decrease in 2009.

Job Loss

•  The field of folk and traditional arts will likely shrink by 10% (16% nationally).

•  Organizations reported 4% (7% national) loss of full-time jobs in 2008 and expect a 5% (9% nationally) loss in 2009, due to layoffs and attrition.  Nationally, nonprofit organizations with budgets under $100,000 are experiencing the earliest and greatest losses.

2.  The health of California’s living cultural heritage is at risk—as a field already stretched thin becomes increasingly fragile.

Lack of healthy cash reserves

•  38% (38% nationally) of organization respondents report no cash reserve on hand.  Only 12% (11% nationally) report cash reserves for more than 6 months.

Organization closures

•  8% (11% nationally) of organization respondents have suspended operations or are considering suspending operations or merging with another organization.

Reduced services, increased needs

•  As 91% of folk arts programs at government agencies nationwide are experiencing budget cuts or expect cuts, they are experiencing a sharp increase in demand for services as artists and nonprofits struggle.  Conversely, artists and independent contractors are experiencing a 50-57% (65% nationally) decrease in demand.

3. The health of California’s living cultural heritage is at risk—as traditional artists, cultural practitioners and contractors turn to other types of income generating activities.

•  84% (82 % nationally) of artists report a decrease in overall income.

•  64% (65% nationally) report a decrease in demand for services, which represents one of the most important source of income for artists.

•  34% (37% nationally) are seeking work outside area of specialty.

4.    The health of California’s living cultural heritage is at risk—as income and job loss cause sharp reductions in services and programs

•  Small budget organizations are struggling.  83% report decreases in income in 2008, rising to 91% in 2009.

•  Nationally, job losses in small budget organizations have been the most severe, with an estimated loss of over 43% of the work force between 2008 and 2009.  Large budget organizations over $1M are also struggling.  80% report decreases in income in 2008, rising to 90% in 2009.

•  The top source of income for nonprofits is foundation and corporate grants.  64% (68% nationally) of organizations report decreases in 2008 grant funding.  In 2009, 79% (83% nationally) of organizations report declines.

•  Cost cutting measures by nonprofits are weakening the capacity of organizations with 24% (25% nationally) reporting reductions in force.  26% (33% nationally) report reductions in programming.

5. The health of the nation’s living cultural heritage is at risk—as the support network of funding agencies and intermediary organizations diminishes.

•  As 46 state governments face budget shortfalls, state arts agencies, the primary funding and support resources for many small nonprofits involved in the folk and traditional arts, are facing drastic reductions in funding, staff positions and services. (See Center on Budget and Policy Priorities) For several agencies, these cuts are coming on the heels of reductions earlier in the decade. A few states, including Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, and Rhode Island, have recent vacancies for state folklorist positions or hiring freezes in place.

•  50% of government and nonprofit survey respondents providing grants and funding support report an average of 18-20% declines in their funding from 2008 to 2009, and a majority expect additional cuts in 2010.  4 of these respondents cite 90-100% cuts.

•  The Fund for Folk Culture, the only national nonprofit providing dedicated grant support to the folk and traditional arts (including the Artists Support Program), is closing its doors after 17 years. Four other private foundations providing dedicated regional support for individual folk and traditional artists report declines in their support.  One of the four is putting their program on hiatus pending review.

For more information about the survey, contact Amy Kitchener, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, at 559-237-9813 or via email.

Study Data

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