Arts Orgs Are Shifting Approach Post-Pandemic, Will Grantmakers?

A link to a video presentation about a study the Michigan Arts and Culture Council commissioned of SMU DataArts popped up in my feed last week. I am not sure what inspired me to listen all the way through because I am glad I did. There were some small unexpected revelations that popped up.

For instance, right around the 30 min mark director of SMU DataArts Zannie Voss discusses how Michigan arts organizations have a higher median working capital than the national median, however the average working capital was quite a bit lower than the national average. (Reminder of median vs average) But both the median and average were close together which Voss says is unusual. After some investigation she found this was due to Michigan arts organizations having smaller budgets than the national average.

This carried over to organizations who primarily served BIPOC communities versus those who did not primarily serve BIPOC communities. Overall BIPOC serving groups in MI had the same liquidity as non-BIPOC serving groups in MI, whereas nationally BIPOC serving groups are more liquid than non-BIPOC groups.  This is due to the fact that in MI the budget size of both groups are closer to each other than their peers nationally.  Generally smaller organizations tend to be more liquid than larger ones.

Voss delves more deeply into this factor by noting that smaller BIPOC serving organizations especially tend not to grow large because there is a lot of unrecognized sweat equity being invested by people. This is one of those “you have to have money to make money” situations. If an organization can’t show a cash expense because so many people donate their effort, they don’t meet foundation/donor funding thresholds to receive more money.

She the moves into recommendations for funders as organizations try to recover from Covid restrictions. The first one is to “support grantee defined strategies for recovery and adaptation” and to “place bigger bets on BIPOC serving organizations who have been disproportionately by the pandemic and racial injustice” on the scope of decades rather than a couple years.  Another is to provide capacity building by supporting salaries and benefits for staffing and other operational expenses.

Specifically she encourages funders to focus on capacity building over organizational growth.  Instead of pushing organizations to add programs, granters should encourage organizations to set down deeper roots to ensure stability.

Likewise she advocates for the exploration of different business models, multi-year grant commitments and encouraging arts organizations to build cash reserves.

None of these suggestions are particularly new, but the pandemic reignited the discussion of many of the issues and created a context for implementing policy changes going forward.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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