How do I plan for my arts organization during the pandemic?

Updated: May 2021 

Here we are – over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic – once again in lockdown. If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s that everything can change in an instant and planning is nearly impossible. All you can do is make your best guesses, listen to the best guesses of those around you and then go from there.  

Here are our best guesses: 

Learn about scenario planning

At a time like this it’s impossible to know when our sector will return to ‘regular’ operations, what that will even look like, and how long it will last. With a combination of uncertainties like that, naturally stress, anxiety, and a loss of control are common feelings running rampant in the arts sector. To help mitigate the feeling of helplessness and remember that despite how grim things may feel now, this too shall pass, give scenario planning a try.

Scenario planning is a cousin to strategic planning, however it’s much more broad and flexible (as in, no hard three- or five-year timelines). In a nutshell, scenario planning invites organizations to forecast possible outcomes of current events (based in present-day fact) and consider how those scenarios may impact the organization – both positively and negatively.

AEA Consulting and the Wallace Foundation in the USA have completed a useful overview and a free toolkit to help get you started (and even if you don’t do the whole exercise, it’s still pretty calming and inspiring to read about the many ways in which this pandemic may be changing the arts industry for the better).

Now may be a great time to focus on development work. 

It’s just not possible right now to pack spaces with lots of patrons. So, depending on your situation, now may not be the right moment to invest your time and money into live performances that just won’t be able to turn a profit. Instead, invest your valuable time and effort into developing long term projects that you’ve never been able to focus on… until now! 

UPDATE: If your activities were impacted by the April 2021 shutdowns, check to see if you’re eligible for small business support from the provincial government, such as the Small Business Impact Grant Part 3.

There is less money to go around.

It might feel a bit obvious at this point, but the expectation should be that over the next few years, the earned revenue side of things, including grants and donations, will be impacted, maybe even by a lot. People, organizations and governments will have less money to give for the next little while the economy recovers. So take some small solace in that everybody is in a similar boat, and we all need to adjust our expectations and rethink our strategies – together. 

For more informationcheck out our page of COVID-19 resources for artists – updated for May 2021.

If you want to gather people together - be prepared to adapt.

While all patron-organization relationships are unique in their own way, statistically speaking they are all similar enough that you can get a pretty good estimate of how your audience is feeling without spending a bunch of time and staff hours on running your own survey. Check out these national audience survey results and/or reach out to your local colleagues who have run feedback surveys already to get useful data you can use to make your decisions.

ALSO: provided it’s permissible to gather in person, make sure you have a COVID-19 Safety and Prevention plan that adheres to the provincial sector-specific guidelines for live arts and cultural events.

Step back and reflect on how you want to connect with your audience.

There are so many people out there who are finding with new and exciting ways to present their work. Try getting inspired by the work of those in your area to get ideas if you are feeling a bit stuck. You could also try collaborating with artists in different fields, presenting your work online, investing in your social media, or asking your online community to contribute to a collective project. 

Nova Scotia needs its artists, so keep reaching out and the community will respond.  

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