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Forum Report: The Role of the Arts Post-Pandemic

We’re excited to share key takeaways from The Forum: Turning the Page—Imagining What’s Next, a live conversation moderated by Arizona Town Hall that took place during the Arts Midwest + WAA 2020 Conference.

Participants in the main breakout room discussing the role of artists and arts organizations in a post-pandemic world.


What was The Forum?

On October 8, approximately 400 Conference attendees came together to envision the future of the field. The session opened with remarks from NEA Chairman Mary Anne Carter, APAP President & CEO Lisa Richards Toney and Arizona Town Hall President Tara Jackson, followed by a presentation from Arts Marketing and Research Consultant Alan Brown on the latest research from WolfBrown/AMS Initiative Audience Outlook Monitor.

Over the next 75-minutes, attendees were sorted into eight Zoom breakout rooms and greeted by Arizona Town Hall facilitators who guided the conversation using the following discussion questions:

  1. What is the most important role of artists and arts organizations in a post-pandemic world? Consider the role artists and art organizations have historically played and how, if at all, the role has changed because of the pandemic.
  2. How can arts organizations and their members best fulfill their roles in a post-pandemic world? Consider audience engagement, audience concerns with safety, touring and international travel, financial viability, safety, technological resources, and other business operations.

Arizona Town Hall manually recorded the conversations from all eight breakout rooms, which were then combined to create the Forum Report below.



The Forum Report

This report should be read as a conversation summary from the live event, outlining the role of artists and arts organizations, and identifying areas in which artists and arts organizations can continue to grow. It’s important to note that Arizona Town Hall recorders are trained to use the words of the participants as much as possible and that these statements reflect the voice of participants and not of Arts Midwest, WAA, or Arizona Town Hall. Comments made in chat rooms and post-program surveys also informed the report.

The Role of Artists and Arts Organizations in a Post-Pandemic World:

Artists are trained by nature to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. When the pandemic hit and everything shut down suddenly and severely, arts continued to be an essential part of the community—giving people hope and sparking joy. Artists offer inspiration, healing, and creative connection. Artists are survivors who enable people to reach catharsis and build resilience. They find what is possible under new circumstances and help us envision the world before us.

Arts organizations have a mission of educating and entertaining. Going forward, it’s important to adapt to the changing and increasingly virtual environment while finding ways to better meet our mission. We need to seek to understand who makes up the community and meet the needs of the community, not just the members of the community who make up the audience.

Harnessing Digital and Virtual Platforms

  • The marketplace has changed, and the method of engagement has shifted from physical venues to an expanded virtual presence. These new technologies will likely persist after we have come to grips with the pandemic.
  • It is important to know what types of technology can be utilized with the arts and to identify how to best generate revenue in the virtual realm.

Finding Our Role in the New Reality

  • Now, more than ever, artists and arts organizations need to collaborate, build community, and find ways to connect with and educate their audiences.
  • Artists and arts organizations have an incredible opportunity to expand. They will need to adopt new roles to ensure the long-term survivability, adaptability, and growth of the arts.
  • It is important to adapt to the changing and increasingly virtual environment while finding ways to better meet the needs of the entire community.
  • We can explore performing in new settings and develop hybrid environments by working with our communities and partners to determine what works for them.
  • By getting creative with technology like TikTok, memes and other platforms, we can enable individual artists to remain visible, engaged, and employed.
  • With virtual and augmented reality, we can use green screens to drop into any venue.
  • We should continue to develop relationships with government, community groups and unions to create different and broader opportunities for communities.

Addressing Systemic Racism

  • As arts organizations, we need to address systemic racism in our organizations, and in our industry.
  • We need to ensure we provide resources in an equitable manner.
  • Artists have a responsibility to show audiences work that allows them to learn, even if it makes them uncomfortable.
  • The virtual world provides opportunities to make the arts spaces more inclusive, by providing access to a more diverse group of artists and audiences.

Reinvesting in Our Own Backyards and Creating New Venues

  • The current situation offers an exciting opportunity for people to reinvest in what is happening in their own backyards—utilizing more local artists and exploring niche opportunities in different localities.
  • New models such as drive-in and outdoor performances can keep us connected with our existing patrons and reach people we may not have touched before.
  • A combination of live and virtual performances likely will be part of our future for some time to come.

Developing Flexible Financial Models

  • Arts organizations are developing creative partnerships with non-arts community organizations and grant funding is shifting to accommodate the new circumstances.
  • Arts organizations should think creatively about how grant funding might be restructured to support arts experiences to more inclusive audiences and advocate for changes in funding as appropriate.

Growing Community Relationships

  • The arts community should consider how to rebuild the arts after the pandemic and expand relationships with communities, but not go back to what existed before.
  • We should center the importance of community engagement within our organizations, with all elements building out from there.
  • With travel limited, organizations should consider how to do performances with different communities to increase arts literacy in places they have not visited before. This engagement can take place through teacher workshops, artist residency, videos, and hybrid activities.
  • Arts administration should be reimagined from a more holistic, collaborative approach.

Thank you to participants for contributing to this report.

As we approach 2021, we hope this report inspires you to continue the conversation with your board members, funders, staff, and or fellow artists.