Art Dealers Association of America survey indicates ongoing impact of COVID-19 on U.S. art galleries
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Art Dealers Association of America survey indicates ongoing impact of COVID-19 on U.S. art galleries
The Art Show 2020, ADAA. Photo by Darian DiCianno BFA.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Art Dealers Association of America reports new data indicating that U.S. galleries are continuing to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and the resulting economic downturn. As of June 2021, 70% of surveyed galleries reported an overall decline in revenue for 2020, as well as staffing levels that remain below pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, the results indicate signs of resilience and a positive outlook for the gallery community for the remainder of 2021 and beyond, with the majority of respondents specifying that pivots to virtual operations and access to federal assistance programs sustained their businesses through the challenges of 2020. Looking ahead to the coming year, 65% confirmed plans to expand their artist rosters and 76% are returning to in-person fair participation.

The data is drawn from a survey of leading galleries across the United States, conducted by the ADAA in June 2021, to assess the impact of COVID-19 on art galleries–the art world's core group of small businesses–which play a critical role in the cultural vitality and economic health of the arts and culture ecology in the U.S. and globally. Approximately one year after the ADAA's 2020 COVID-19 Impact Survey of U.S. Art Galleries, conducted in April and May 2020, the 2021 report provides an opportunity to compare galleries' projections for 2020 with the revenue, staffing, programming, and other business activities that ultimately occurred through the 2020 fiscal year, and to assess the outlook of the gallery community for 2021 and beyond. Galleries across the country participated in the survey, spanning members of the industry's leading organizations of national and regional art dealers, including the ADAA, Houston Art Gallery Association (HAGA), and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association (SFADA).

Highlights of the 2021 COVID-19 Impact Survey of U.S. Galleries findings include:

• 70% of respondents reported a decline in revenue in the 2020 fiscal year.

• In contrast to the findings of the 2020 report, which was conducted shortly following the initiation of new government programs to assist small businesses, an overwhelming majority of galleries reported that they were able to access federal assistance in 2020 and that it was critical in enabling staff retention and/or the re-instatement of laid off or furloughed staff.

• 78% of respondents did not make any layoffs in 2020.

• 84% of respondents did not instate any furloughs in 2020.

• Of those that pivoted to virtual business operations and programs, 62% of respondents reported that it directly supported sales.

• As in-person events return, the majority of respondents plan to reduce participation in online fairs programming; however, they also reported a slight reduction in in-person fair participation compared to last year.

• Of those participating in fairs in 2021, the majority of respondents reported plans to participate in fairs in U.S. markets, over other major international markets.

• Suggesting a positive outlook for the remainder of 2021, 65% of respondents plan to expand their artist rosters this year.

• When asked to rank their primary concerns moving forward, respondents indicated that their continued recovery from the impact of COVID-19 was top of mind. Additional pressing concerns included overhead (rent costs); the operational and administrative impacts caused by potential anti-money laundering legislation; and by the complicated sales tax implications of the South Dakota v. Wayfair Supreme Court decision in 2018.

"While it is clear that galleries have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels of activity; the ADAA's 2021 report also demonstrates just how nimble and innovative galleries continue to be, as so many quickly pivoted to virtual programs; found ways to sustain their physical spaces; and retained staff, through an unprecedented period," said Anthony Meier, President of the ADAA and Founder of Anthony Meier Fine Arts (San Francisco), and Maureen Bray, Executive Director of the ADAA. "As the art world's core group of small businesses, the outlook for art galleries has far-reaching implications for the entire cultural community. Galleries contribute greatly to cultural sector employment and are key to supporting artists and cultural production, both economically and as advocates. By continuing to collect and share data with the public, and the cultural, business, and legislative communities, the ADAA advances greater understanding of the critical role of galleries, as well as the Association's own activities and programs to support ADAA member galleries."

The 2020 report indicated that the financial impact of COVID-19 lockdowns was swift and immediate for respondents, with galleries across the country projecting an overall gross revenue loss of 73% in the second quarter of 2020, following a 31% revenue loss in quarter one, as a result of developments from COVID-19. While galleries had succeeded in retaining the majority of their full-time staff as of May 2020, the shut-down of their physical spaces and decrease in revenue caused a significant reduction in the engagement of art handlers and other independent contractors that rely on the art gallery ecosystem for employment. At the time of the 2020 survey, which was shortly after federal COVID-relief programs for small businesses became available, galleries had largely not yet been able to take advantage of these opportunities for government assistance and were seeing mixed results when working with landlords to reduce or pause rent obligations. As a result, overhead for their physical spaces was the most pressing concern reported by most respondents in 2020.

The 2021 and 2020 COVID-19 Impact Survey of U.S. Art Galleries are an extension of the ADAA's ongoing initiatives in support of its members and the gallery community year-round and during the COVID-19 crisis. The ADAA provides members with access to industry experts, webinars, and other resources to support them in navigating the ongoing crisis and recovery, as well as a range of other issues and trends impacting the gallery community, including collaborating with public policy experts to advocate for members in Washington, D.C.

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