SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Study Illuminates the Breadth of Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding for Arts and Culture

Preliminary Release December 14, 2023

Public Release January 23, 2024

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. federal government agencies provided unprecedented levels of federal relief funding to the arts and culture sector. Federal relief programs kept many organizations afloat during the pandemic and saved jobs in the arts.

This report uses publicly available data to assess the distribution of aid from four federal programs: The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) Program, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act grants. The PPP and the SVOG programs were administered by the Small Business Administration and open to commercial and nonprofit establishments. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) administered the other two, which were open to nonprofit but not commercial establishments.

To create this assessment, we compiled data from sources specific to each program, then identified funding that went to arts and culture. Since there is no clear-cut definition of which industries should be considered part of the arts and culture field, we used multiple approaches to defining the sector with varying levels of emphasis on for-profit versus nonprofit entities to see where distribution differences lie.

We then explored the geographic flow of funding to arts and culture in three ways: 1) overall, 2) relative to payroll, and 3) the number of funding awards made in relation to the number of establishments. We examined funding relative to total payroll because the stated objective of government relief funding programs such as the PPP was to help businesses keep their workforce employed.

Finally, we looked at how PPP funding for the arts and culture field stacked up to that awarded to other U.S. industry sectors.

A set of companion maps visualize the geographic distribution of funds nationally through these different lenses.


Download the Report (PDF)


Key Findings

Using a broad definition of arts and culture inclusive of nonprofit and for-profit industries,1 $53 billion was awarded nationally to arts and culture via the four federal programs.

  • Narrowing the definition to focus primarily on nonprofit arts and cultural industries and independent cultural workers,2 $17 billion was awarded nationally.
  • Eight of the ten counties that were awarded the highest levels of overall relief funding were the same regardless of how the arts field was defined, an indicator that these counties have formed clusters of both commercial and nonprofit cultural activity.
  • Federal COVID-19 relief funding to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations was twice that of funds awarded over 24 years (2000-2023) both to nonprofits and state and regional agencies by the NEA and IMLS, the main pre-pandemic sources of federal arts funding.


Federal relief funding, was broadly distributed across the country.

  • Support was directed to establishments in 96% of counties using the broader definition of the arts sector that includes for-profits and nonprofits, and to 89% of counties using the narrower definition that focuses primarily on nonprofits.
  • Regardless of the sector definition used, no single region of the country received an exceptionally high share of total federal relief dollars.
  • Non-metro areas generally performed higher than the metro areas, and the Midwest and South performed higher than the West and Northeast, on relief coverage of payroll and number of grants relative to establishments.


The Arts and Entertainment sector was comparatively successful at securing PPP funding.

  • Among all U.S. industry sectors, Arts and Entertainment received the fourth-highest level of PPP dollars relative to total sector pay.
  • Across all sectors of the U.S. economy as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), PPP grants covered an average of 9% of total payroll; that figure was 13% for the Arts and Entertainment sector.


The vast majority of federal relief dollars that directly buoyed many organizations during years of pandemic crisis have now run out. The duration of relief funds has not matched the slower rebuild experienced by many arts organizations.

In the coming months, SMU DataArts will work with ten communities across the country to explore the logistics, impact, and potential equity considerations around the distribution of funds to support the arts and culture field in the United States.


View Funding Distribution Maps

Download the Report (PDF)

1 The broad definition of arts and culture sector industries in this report adopts the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ (BEA) Arts and Culture Production Satellite Account definition, which is also used by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This set of establishments includes nonprofit (e.g., theater, museums) as well as for-profit (e.g., graphic design, commercial photography) creative industry entities.

2 The narrower definition of arts and culture sector industries in this report adopts the definition used by SMU DataArts in its Arts Vibrancy Index (AVI) analyses, which focuses primarily on nonprofit arts and culture industries and independent cultural workers, and also includes film and sound. For this study, we also included zoos and botanical gardens in this definition. There is one-third the number of industries in this narrower definition than in the broader definition.

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