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New report highlights impact of Covid pandemic on arts sector

Thursday 18th November 2021 at 9am 0 Comments

Findings from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Annual Funding Survey* published today highlight the stark pressures placed on the arts sector as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Employment levels and income generation have experienced substantial shifts and major changes were reported on how audiences access arts programming, as more activities moved online.

This year 97 organisations completed the Arts Council’s Annual Funding Survey. All the organisations surveyed received funding from the Arts Council’s Annual Funding Programme (AFP), the largest financial awards made to key arts organisations every year to support year round running costs and programming**.

The survey collects data on financial statements (income and expenditure), numbers of performances, participation based events, exhibitions and festivals. It also records details of known and estimated audiences. This year, for the first time, an additional section was added looking at the impact COVID-19 has had on operations. Workforce employment descriptors have also been extended within the survey to reflect changes in gender identity and sexual orientation classifications, with data gathered across all employment areas, including board members.

The survey shows the impact of the enforced lockdown in March 2020 and subsequent restrictions on the operation and management of all of the Arts Council’s core funded arts organisations, with many having to develop new business models to reflect changes to their operating environments. The result of these changes, for example the shift from in-person to digital forms of output and changes to staffing levels, are reported within the survey.

Key findings:

  • 97 organisations received £12.9m in grants from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Annual Funding Programme in the 2020/21 financial year through its Exchequer and lottery resources. This represented the same amount awarded to 97 organisations in the previous financial year (2019/20).
  • Total income fell by 9% (£4.5m) compared to 2019/20. Earned income fell by £16m (69%) compared to 2019/20. This loss was offset, to an extent, by increases in income from public sources, including the Arts Council’s Emergency Funding Programme and contributed sources, both of which increased by 22%.
  • 2020-21 saw a 99% reduction in income generated from ticket sales in 2020/21 (£188,479).
  • 4,800 people were employed by core arts organisations last year (those in receipt of Annual Funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland). This represented a 25% reduction year on year. There was a 27% decline in contract/freelance staff employed and a 9% reduction in permanent staff.
  • The combined audiences for on-line and digital activity in 2020/21 was an estimated 15m. Although there was a marked increase in the production of digital content and viewing audiences, only 59 physical (in person) activities took place in 2020/21, a large decrease from 67,000 in 2019/20.

Karly Greene, Director of Strategic Development and Partnerships, commented:

“The Annual Funding Survey gives us a real insight into the arts sector in Northern Ireland, providing vital information on finances, employment levels, arts activities and audience engagement. This year, the survey was expanded to gather additional data on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, how our key arts organisations have adapted their business models and the continued financial pressures they face.

“The results of this year’s survey are hugely informative and demonstrate the enormous changes that have taken place. Online audiences grew, as arts organisations diversified their offering, seeking new ways to engage and present their work. However, the online model was no replacement for income generated by live events and we can see that, despite the furlough scheme and emergency funding programmes, the workforce has sadly contracted by a quarter, as income levels and ticket sales fell. Small arts organisations were particularly hard hit last year, placing these groups under significant stress.

“While we don’t yet know the long term impact these changes will have on the sector, this survey highlights a need for ongoing financial support and will be an important tool in helping us to strategically plan for the future.”

The Annual Funding Survey is used to provide evidence of the use of funding for reporting to Government and other key stakeholders and it also helps support the Arts Council’s detailed understanding of grant recipients, informing future planning and policy development.

In addition to the report, a data table has been created allowing the interrogation of data by artform type and organisation size (as determined by income). This valuable resource will enable arts organisations to benchmark their activity at a sector level.

To access the report and data tables go to:

*Please note, the reporting period for this survey is 1st April 2020-31st March 2021.
** The Arts Council of Northern Ireland offers a range of funding programmes annually for artists and organisations through its exchequer and National Lottery funds. The organisations surveyed for the Annual Funding Survey are those which have received grants through the Annual Funding Programme, the largest financial awards made by the Arts Council to arts organisations across all artform areas including festivals and venues.

Notes to editors

  • The report contains analysis on the financial, operational and artistic activities of funded organisations and is being released by the Arts Council under its capacity as a producer of Official Statistics.
  • For more information on the survey please contact Graeme Stevenson by e-mail at

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