US COVID Relief Funding For The Arts: How Much Was There And Where Was It Given?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. federal government agencies provided unprecedented levels of federal relief funding to the arts and culture sector. Federal relief programs kept many organizations afloat during the pandemic and saved jobs in the arts.

This report uses publicly available data to assess the distribution of aid from four federal programs: The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) Program, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grants. The PPP and the SVOG programs were administered by the Small Business Administration and open to commercial and nonprofit establishments. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) administered the other two, which were open to nonprofit but not commercial establishments.

To create this assessment, we compiled data from sources specific to each program, then identified funding that went to arts and culture. Since there is no clear-cut definition of which industries should be considered part of the arts and culture field, we used multiple approaches to defining the sector with varying levels of emphasis on for-profit versus nonprofit entities to see where distribution differences lie.

We then explored the geographic flow of funding to arts and culture in three ways: 1) overall, 2) relative to payroll, and 3) the number of funding awards made in relation to the number of establishments. We examined funding relative to total payroll because the stated objective of government relief funding programs such as the PPP was to help businesses keep their workforce employed.

Finally, we looked at how PPP funding for the arts and culture field stacked up to that awarded to other U.S. industry sectors.

A set of companion maps visualize the geographic distribution of funds nationally through these different lenses.


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1 The broad definition of arts and culture sector industries in this report adopts the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ (BEA) Arts and Culture Production Satellite Account definition, which is also used by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This set of establishments includes nonprofit (e.g., theater, museums) as well as for-profit (e.g., graphic design, commercial photography) creative industry entities.

2 The narrower definition of arts and culture sector industries in this report adopts the definition used by SMU DataArts in its Arts Vibrancy Index (AVI) analyses, which focuses primarily on nonprofit arts and culture industries and independent cultural workers, and also includes film and sound. For this study, we also included zoos and botanical gardens in this definition. There is one-third the number of industries in this narrower definition than in the broader definition.

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