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Arts Council’s Box Office Survey shows true impact of Covid-19 on the arts

Thursday 9th July 2020 at 10am 0 Comments

Theatre audience. Image: Theatre audience.

New research released this week by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland shows the severity of the crisis facing the arts sector as box office income grinds to a halt amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

A survey of box-office organisations by the Arts Council, in collaboration with thrive, has revealed that cultural organisations have on average lost 72% of their box office revenue, equating to a projected loss of £9.5 million this year.

The research brings together responses from 42 organisations, including festivals, venues and other arts organisations. Of the different groups which took part, venues will be hit hardest with expected losses of £8.3 million. In addition to losing out on ticket sales, organisations will also be impacted by the loss of £5.3 million in ancillary income, from food and drink, sponsorships, donations, merchandise and other revenue streams.

Noirin McKinney, Director of Arts Development, at the Arts Council explained:

“This important research demonstrates the true cost of Covid-19 on an already fragile sector. For venues and festivals in particular, box office revenue is absolutely vital as for many it makes up more than 50% of their annual income.

“Culture and the arts are at the centre of life in Northern Ireland. Last year over 750,000 tickets were sold to arts events, a massive 221,000 people attended a festival event, while another 348,000 took part in an arts activity. The closure of venues and cancellation of events therefore is something which affects all our lives.

“The purpose of this research was to find out how much ticketed cultural organisations were affected by the pandemic. These results will be absolutely vital going forward, helping the Arts Council to engage with government and support future planning for the cultural sector.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • The pandemic has severely impacted box office revenue – cultural organisations expect losses of £9.5 million in box office revenue.
  • On average, organisations lost 72% of their box office revenue - This loss of box office revenue has a significant impact on cultural organisations, as it contributes to over half of venues’ and festivals’ earned income
  • Cultural organisations also expect to lose nearly £5.3 million in ancillary income, including nearly £2.5m in food and drink revenue. This results in an estimated total of £14.8 million in total losses among the 42 organisations surveyed. The extent of this will be much larger across the wider sector.
  • £1.3 million has gone towards refunds and vouchers, including £601k in refunds and £734k in vouchers.
  • The cultural sector reaches a wide audience: among respondents, there were 750k tickets sold, 348k participations, 145k exhibition attendees, and 221k festival goers.
  • The cultural sector also plays an important role in the economy: the cultural organisations taking the survey employ a total of 535 full-time staff, 2,879 freelancer artists, and 1,425 volunteers.



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