A Pandemic Snapshot of Orchestras

Visual for the SurveyTo mark one year since the pandemic halted the operations of orchestras and arts organizations across Canada, we are diving into some new data about the situation of orchestras. The National Arts and Culture Impact Survey, which was spearheaded by Orchestras Canada and the findings of which were published earlier this year, received responses from 728 organizations, including 73 orchestras. Comparing orchestras with arts organizations overall helps shed light on some key trends that can help orchestras orient themselves for the gradual relaunch ahead. 

1- Orchestras feel left behind by government supports

Overall, orchestras felt less positive about many of the government supports than arts organizations as a whole. 57% of orchestras said they were not eligible for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), compared to 45% of all arts organizations. Overall, orchestras were less likely to give a positive rating to most government support programs:

2- Orchestras are leading the work-from-home trend

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of orchestra workers have been working from home during the pandemic. Even after an eventual relaunch, 50% of the orchestral workforce is expected to continue working from home. This proportion doubles pre-pandemic levels (26%) and is higher than arts organizations as a whole (42%).

3-Orchestras are feeling positive about digital

Orchestras tended to have more positive experiences with digital programming than arts organizations as a whole, with 49% saying digital programming exceeded their expectations versus 35% of organizations as a whole. Interestingly, orchestras are more likely to agree that they have the interest, capacity, knowledge, equipment and technology, and internet speed to go digital than arts organizations as a whole.

4-Nearly one in three orchestras is at risk, others are in a holding pattern

31% of orchestras were either closed or still assessing their ability to stay open. In general, orchestras feel further away from recovery than other organizations. Orchestras were significantly more likely to select “the focus on post-pandemic activities/recovery/assistance” as a barrier to receiving funding (10% of orchestras vs. 2% of organizations as a whole). Paradoxically, orchestras are more likely to feel optimistic about their ability to recover from the pandemic (74%) than arts organizations as a whole (67%).

5- Huge career losses for individuals

Since the pandemic, 83% of artists and arts workers in the orchestral sector have lost at least some work, with 13% no longer working in the sector at all. On average, respondents have been working in the arts for 23 years. At least 71% of individuals reported a lower expected income than what they were originally projecting. The proportion of individuals who estimate an income of under $20,000 (35%) tripled compared to pre-COVID (13%). 

In addition, individuals project more non-arts income in the mix, with just 68% of these artists and arts workers’ income coming from the arts today vs 80% pre-COVID. About one-third of individuals said it would be unlikely they would be working in the arts and culture in three months’ time (February 2021).

6-Increased stress and anxiety

About four times as many individuals report very high or high levels of stress and anxiety today as compared to before COVID-19. Even more telling is that no respondents reported very high levels pre-COVID-19, compared to 33% today. Women are more likely than men to report high levels of stress and anxiety today than pre-COVID, while the difference pre-COVID was minimal.

7- Orchestras Canada members more connected

Organizations affiliated with Orchestras Canada (60%) tend to be more likely than all participating arts organizations (48%) to stay informed by way of national peer meetings. In addition, about two-thirds (64%) of respondents affiliated with Orchestras Canada report feeling informed about sector and government updates, which is higher than 49% reported by all participating individuals. Yay OC community!

Source: National Arts and Culture Impact Survey, January 2021