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Alarming report results as artist residencies buckle under COVID pressures

A new report by Res Artis looks at the impact of cancelled artist residencies globally, with a flood of artists leaving the sector due to dwindling career opportunities and lack of financial support.
Alarming report results as artist residencies buckle under COVID pressures The latest report released by Res Artists and University College London contains sobering facts about the impact of COVID on the visual arts sector. Image: Shutterstock.

Visual Arts Writer

Wednesday 7 April, 2021

Res Artis: Worldwide Network of Arts Residencies (with an office in Melbourne) and UCL (University College London) have partnered to deliver a three-part survey that examines the immediate, medium-term and long-term impact of COVID-19 on international arts residencies.

In September 2020, the findings from Survey 1 were released. With the close of March 2021, the results from Survey II have been tabled.

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‘While the impact of the pandemic on the international arts residencies landscape continues to be devastating and enduring, there are glimmers of hope,’ said Eliza Dawson, Res Artis Executive Director.

Concerningly, the report cites that 12.2% of artist respondents have considered leaving the arts sector permanently, with the number hiking to 18% among emerging artists, due to the impact of COVID.  

In short:

  • 65% of artists have been forced to pursue non-arts work.
  • 12.2% of artists are considering leaving the sector entirely. 
  • 68% of artists and 61% of arts residency operators have been unable to access emergency funding.
  • 88% of artist respondents have had their mental health impacted by the pandemic.
  • 57% of artists said the pandemic has affected their ability to produce new works.

Read the full Survey 2 Report. 

Res Artis received 611 complete responses from over 50 countries for Survey II (441 from artists and 170 from arts organisations and residency providers).

Among artist respondents, 27% considered themselves emerging artists, 47% were mid-career, and 25% were established artists, while 42% were Res Artis members.

The impact of closures

The first Res Artis survey found that by September 2020, 54% of planned residencies had been cancelled, modified, cut short, or postponed, with one in 10 arts residency operators reporting being forced to close indefinitely and 9% closing permanently.

‘Months later, the outlook is not much different,’ the second report states.

  • 15% of respondents said their planned residencies had been cancelled.
  • 19% said were their residencies were postponed.
  • Only 3% said their plans continued as normal with their residencies this past year.

The financial situation

Survey I reported that 45% of respondents were unable to access or were ineligible for emergency government aid.

In Survey II, 68% reported being unable to access emergency funding support of any kind, an increase of 23%. Deeper investigations found the reasons were that:

  • 31% said there were no relevant funding opportunities.
  • 13% applied for emergency funding but were rejected.
  • 65% of artist respondents said they had been forced to pursue other sources of income to support themselves during the past year.

Dawson said of the Survey I results: ‘It was also important to ask questions about how they supported themselves financially without access to residencies.’

Of those respondents who cited being unable to access emergency funding in Survey II, 48% explained their loss of income from lost projects or collaborative opportunities, while 32% pointed to loss of income from the sale of art works.

The Survey II report continued: ‘Mid-career and established artists were more likely than emerging artists to have had planned residencies cancelled, and therefore more financially impacted by cancellations. However, emerging artists were more than twice as likely to pursue full-time work outside of the arts sector, suggesting that this experience could derail their career plans more permanently, leading to a longer effect on the sector.’

Read: Artists face financial vice over cancelled residencies

Of the respondents forced to find income elsewhere (65%), nearly half found work outside of the arts sector, arguably destabilising the sector in the long term.

Another concerning finding revealed that 80% of respondents who reported receiving emergency support used it to pay for daily living expenses, and just 34% used it to fund the creation of new works.

For the 32% who were able to access funding, the report found that it did not always come from COVID-specific emergency funds, with some countries like the USA  turning to unemployment insurance or an emergency withdrawal of retirement funds.

Mental health impact

88% of artists respondents said their mental health has been somewhat impacted by the pandemic, with 25% describing that impact as significant.

More than half (57%) said the mental health impact had affected their ability to produce new works.

‘This is more than we anticipated,’ says the report. Survey I had anticipated the impact on creativity at 50%. The Survey II report added that the impact was ‘higher among emerging artists, who were the group most likely to say the pandemic has significantly impacted their mental health, and that it has affected their ability to produce new works.’

Emerging artists were more than twice as likely to pursue full-time work outside of the arts sector, suggesting that this experience could derail their career plans more permanently, leading to a longer effect on the sector.

The impact on orgs and residency providers

Survey II reports that nearly 6% of arts organisations said they have been forced to close indefinitely. This is a slight improvement from Survey I (9%).

Even more heartening, 16% of organisations said they have not had to make any changes since the start of the pandemic, and 37% said they have recently resumed partial operations after a temporary closure. Just over 2% of residency providers said they do not plan to operate any residencies this year.

37% residency organisations said they have recently resumed partial operations after a temporary closure.

On the downside, 61% of organisation respondents said they have been unable to access emergency funding support.

Organisations that were able to obtain emergency funding have largely used it to pay staff (63%) and to cover operational costs such as rent and other payments (38.5%). Only 25% reported that they have used the money for digital innovations.

Overwhelmingly, ‘artists and residency providers made it clear that the artist mobility sector is not one that can easily adapt to a virtual, remote world’, said the report.

Just 23% of residency providers are preparing for the possibility of virtual residencies, with only 7% actively offering virtual residency opportunities currently. 6% of respondents said they do not have stable, reliable internet connection in their home workspace to enable that level of pivoted activity.

The upside of the findings

Most artist respondents say it is too early to tell when they will go on their next residency.

Similarly, 25% of residency providers said it is too early to tell what their program of offerings will look like in the remainder of 2021.

However, 71% of arts organisation respondents reported they are planning to operate in-person residencies in 2021. Many are open to international applicants, however, some noted at the time of Survey II, the number of local applications has increased, suggesting all continue remain wary for the moment.

Survey II was conducted between 24 November 2020 and 25 January 2021. For residency advice and guidance visit Res Artis.

About the author

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