Greater Hartford Arts Landscape Study Reveals a Vibrant Industry Challenged by a Lack of Diversity and Shrinking Financial Resources

Study is a collaboration between Connecticut Office of the Arts and Hartford Foundation

In 2018, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) commissioned research to better understand the dynamics of the Greater Hartford’s arts industry. What emerged was a picture of an arts ecosystem populated by a passionate set of creative individuals, committed to serving audiences and bringing great arts experiences to the region. This is a cause for celebration, and it is not news to those who work with this population every day. Unfortunately, the sector is also struggling with a limited pool of support for their work – with precious dollars allocated toward other critical needs in the community. Making matters even more challenging is an uneven distribution of arts activity, participation, and support, suggesting the need for re-doubled efforts to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Launched in the fall of 2018, the study conducted by TDC and DataArts sought to identify key challenges and opportunities for local arts and cultural organizations. The comprehensive study provides demographic and funding data on arts and cultural organizations in the Hartford region. This effort also included a workforce survey of local organizations in the field. The Connecticut Office of the Arts recognized many of these issues beginning in 2016 with the introduction of the READI Initiative to bring relevance, equity, access, diversity and inclusion to the forefront of its program and grant-making priorities. Both the Hartford Foundation and the Connecticut Office of the Arts will use the results of this study to inform additional grant making and support strategies.

“The arts are an incredible asset in our region, which when properly leveraged can support community and resident well-being including physical and mental health, education and learning, economic vitality, social cohesion and community development,” said Hartford Foundation Senior Vice President Judy Rozie-Battle. “This study provides us with invaluable information about the current state of the Greater Hartford arts ecosystem which the Foundation will use to inform our own arts and cultural investments and programmatic work.”

“The Office of the Arts was pleased to partner with the Hartford Foundation on this study which takes a deeper dive into the needs and challenges faced by Hartford’s creative population and the organizations that support it,” said Liz Shapiro, Director of Arts, Preservation & Museums at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. “COA has made tackling questions of equity, access, diversity and inclusion a priority reflected in our grant-making across opportunities, and specifically through our Arts Workforce Initiative (started in 2017), ARTE- Accessible Grants, and our READI Talks for young urban creatives. We are excited about the work we do in partnership with our nine Designated Regional Service Organizations across the state, including the Greater Hartford Arts Council, and look forward to new ways to collaborate with the Hartford Foundation as we work together to identify needs and grow support for Hartford’s creative communities.”

Some of the key findings related to the demographics or staff and consumers for arts and culture in Greater Hartford include:

  • Despite the efforts of many organizations, people of color are not proportionately represented in Greater Hartford’s art workforce. Latinx artists and organizations were particularly underrepresented based on workforce surveys.
  • While participation is high relative to the national average, data show that a majority of the region’s residents do not regularly utilize arts and cultural offerings.
  • Baby Boomers (age 54-73) compose 59 percent of senior staff in the arts workforce, but they are only 32 percent of the total Greater Hartford population. Focus group participants expressed concern about the readiness of next generation leaders to take the helm when the Baby Boomers retire. Nurturing younger, more diverse leaders will be a critical challenge for the arts ecosystem as Baby Boomers age out of the workforce.

In response to these findings, the Foundation will develop strategies to support leadership transitions that provide increased opportunities for more diverse leadership in the arts. The Foundation is exploring a 12-month fellowship program to recruit people of color in the early to mid-stages of their arts career. The Foundation will also be convening artists of color to get input that will inform the Foundation’s efforts to cultivate a more diverse arts workforce. Research indicates that arts organizations with diverse leadership are more successful at developing content that appeals to a more representative audience.

The Office of the Arts began a workforce initiative program in 2017 matching young professionals aspiring to enter the arts field with arts organizations across the state in paid internships. This year, the program placed 53 young creatives in internships. The findings of this report echo and demonstrate the need for such programs to grow Connecticut’s creative economy. Opportunities to partner on this work abound.

The study also offered a variety of insights into the finances of arts and cultural organizations including:

  • The growth rate of arts funding in the Greater Hartford Region is not keeping pace with the national trend. The total grant dollars grew from $10.1 million in 2012 to $11.3 million in 2016. While this 12 percent growth rate outpaced the inflation rate of 8 percent, it is far lower than the 29 percent growth of funding to arts nonprofits nationally, reported by Giving USA.
  • While there may be an impression that large organizations are getting more than their fair share of support, an analysis of institutional funding demonstrates that this perception does not hold true. Despite the fact that large organizations account for 68 percent of total expenses, they receive only 41 percent of total funding. Mid-sized and small organizations, on the other hand, receive disproportionately larger slices of support from funders.
  • The data show that funding is not proportionately distributed by type of arts organizations. Arts service organizations and history/humanities appear to be receiving disproportionately large portions of support from funders. While history organizations make up 17 percent of arts spending, they received 25 percent of the 2016 grants. Community and media organizations receive smaller proportions of funding support
  • Arts organizations are highly dependent on contributed revenue (as compared to earned revenue). This is particularly true of history / humanities organizations, community organizations, and public radio / television.
  • One third of Greater Hartford’s arts organizations exhibit signs of financial fragility. While this rate is similar to those found in other communities, it appears that there are disparities based on discipline and budget size. Dance appears to be a particularly small and shrinking discipline, based on a review of artist occupation data.
  • Community organizations, including cultural/ethnic awareness and neighborhood-based groups, have higher rates of financial fragility and grant support disproportionately lower than their spending.

In an effort to support individual artists and smaller organizations, the Foundation will work with the Office of the Arts and other Regional Service Organizations to convene a large group of local artists this fall to discuss ways the Foundation can better support local artists and smaller arts and cultural organizations. This could include providing support for back office administrative functions that individual artists and smaller organizations may struggle to implement.