An Update on Sustain Arts: The State of the Bay Area Arts Sector

About six months ago, we featured a series of posts about Sustain Arts, brand new, arts-focused funding data tool. Now, we are checking in with Claire Rice, national director of Sustain Arts. For those who have been using the tool, or have been on the site, Claire and her team would love to hear from you. What have you learned? How have you used the platform? What is challenging to you?  Please write to Kelly Varian, communications specialist at Sustain Arts, to share your thoughts.


In March I co-hosted a break out session at the Annual Theatre Bay Area Conference on what data means for the arts  - especially arts in the Bay Area. My co-presenter, John McInerney of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and I took an hour to describe two invaluable cultural data resources, what they reveal about the health of the Bay Area arts sector, and how people can use them in their own work. Here’s a quick overview:

John is Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, a membership and service provider organization known for its cultural research. The Alliance published a downloadable report that synthesizes data from various nonprofit-focused sources to illuminate the health and growth of arts sectors in various US cities. Check it out here.

John and I are both major advocates for using data to make decisions in the arts. We believe data, when paired with institutional knowledge and good old personal experience, enables cultural stakeholders to make more strategic decisions and plan for long-term sustainability. We want everyone to know our resources are out there – free and ready to use. 

For those of you who haven’t read Foundation Center’s previous blog series, I am the National Director of Sustain Arts, a project that also equips communities with free arts data. In contrast to the Cultural Alliance’s reports, Sustain Arts hosts interactive, regionally-focused web platforms.

Here in the Bay Area, the Sustain Arts platform is an easy-to-use tool, tailored to meet the needs of arts administrators, funders, policy makers, and individual artists. It brings together an extraordinary universe of real-time data on funding and audience participation in both for-profit and nonprofit arts activity across a range of disciplines, including visual arts, theatre, dance, music, film, electronic media, literary arts, and the humanities.

At, users can: 

  • Track funding connections between over 400 grantmakers and hundreds of grantees to identify potential funders and visualize the Bay Area granting landscape
  • Locate participants in seven different disciplines across the 11 counties, and zoom in on specific zip codes to see estimated and actual participation statistics
  • Search arts organizations using an index of over 2,100 nonprofits and 11,600 businesses and filter results by geography, discipline, and budget size
  • Find partners and collaborators with advanced search features that identify organizations like yours and locate cultural entities in your neighborhood
  • Explore key learnings that summarize research finding and highlight striking regional trends

When John and I compiled our research findings, we discovered interesting trends in the national and Bay Area arts sectors. Some good, some not so good.  Here’s the scoop:

State of the Arts

Nationally the sector is recovering from the recession, with revenue up 7% and attendance up 3% between 2009. Earned income is driving steady growth, accounting for 53 cents of every dollar brought in. And good news for all emerging arts professionals, employment is up (if only slightly, showing a 1.4% increase).

Unfortunately, many groups continue to struggle despite general recovery. Theater and music are experiencing a decrease in subscriptions and attendance, and other performing arts have seen a 21% drop in total revenue since 2009. Contributed income is down for the entire arts sector, particularly in the area of government funding.

The Bay Area arts sector looks particularly strong. Average total revenue jumped 30% between 2009 and 2012 (compared to a 7% national average), attendance increased 4%, and both earned and contributed incomes went up. Most impressive of all, board giving spiked 222%. Thank you board members! Alternative giving vehicles, such as Kickstarter, also made a mark, with more than $24.6 million raised on the crowdfunding platform for arts and culture-related projects in the Bay Area in 2013.

Despite region-wide success, a deeper dive reveals this narrative of prosperity may not ring true for all. Financial gains for the Bay Area’s largest arts organizations inflate region wide averages and some smaller organizations lag financially. Organizations with annual budgets under $10M show negative margins, experiencing a .3% deficit on average, while organizations with budgets over $10M enjoy a 23% surplus.

Whether you are large institution, small organization, artist, funder, or just an interested individual, I encourage you to use both Sustain Arts and The Cultural Alliance resources. Our data will help you make more strategic decisions, build stronger cases for funding, and fostered more informed cultural advocacy. Beyond learning, we’d love to get to the point where exploring this data is actually fun for you! Let me know if we’re getting close.

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Claire Rice is the Deputy Director of Harvard University’s Sustain Arts project. Previously, she served as Interim Director of Education and Community Engagement at UMS, a 135 year-old performing arts presenter bringing internationally renowned artists in dance, music, and theater to Ann Arbor, Michigan.