Bay Area: A Portrait of the Cultural Ecosystem

For more than a year, the Sustain Arts research team has located, gathered, cleaned, reconciled, integrated, and analyzed more than a dozen highly relevant national, regional, and local data sets that collectively begin to tell a cogent story about the arts and cultural sector in the region. These data sets enable us to examine the interrelationships among organizations and their capitalization patterns, shifting demographics, and participation trends.

The result is Sustain Arts/Bay Area: A Portrait of the Cultural Ecosystem, a snapshot of key learnings from the 11 counties stakeholders agreed had the largest share of arts and cultural activity in the region: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma. This portrait accompanies a state-of-the-art online platform that allows users to explore the data in-depth.

For-profit Organizations Dominate the Scene

There are more than five for-profit arts and cultural organizations for every nonprofit in the Bay Area.

* e.g., arts councils, arts centers
** e.g., libraries, universities

DATA SOURCES: Guidestar, 2014 (nonprofit organizations). Includes organizations that filed an IRS Form 990 between 2011 and 2013. Infogroup, 2014 (for-profit organizations). Includes creative enterprises from InfoUSA’s business database. There are 41 different arts and cultural industries that comprise the 11,623 for-profits in the Bay Area; the top five make up 50% of those and are: Architectural Services (1,674), Graphic Design (1,428), Commercial Printing (941), Independent Artists, Writers and Performers (905), and Photography Studios (904).

One in Five Arts and Cultural Nonprofits Folded in the Past Decade

Smaller organizations were the least likely to survive. Are there natural limits or an optimal “carrying capacity” associated with the nonprofit arts ecosystem? Or, does a crowded creative sector serve as a stimulus for innovation?

DATA SOURCE: National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2014. Includes organizations that filed an IRS Form 990 in 2000 with over $50,000 in revenue.

Survival Rates on Par with Other Cities

The turnover rate of arts and cultural organizations in San Francisco from 2000 to 2010 was comparable to other cities.

DATA SOURCE: National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2013. Includes organizations that filed an IRS Form 990 in 2000 with over $50,000 in revenue.

Funding is Unevenly Distributed

Less than 15 percent of nonprofits have budgets over $1 million, but they receive over three quarters of foundation funding for the arts in the Bay Area. Is this the right balance for the arts and cultural ecosystem?

DATA SOURCES: Guidestar, 2014 (number of organizations). Includes organizations that filed an IRS Form 990 between 2011 and 2013. Foundation Center, 2013 (amount of funding). Based on all grants of $10,000 or more awarded by a set of 50 U.S. foundations that were responsible for 85 percent of foundation giving for arts and culture in the region from 2004 through 2012. For community foundations, only discretionary grants are included. Grants to individuals are not included in the file nor are grants made by local, state or government agencies.

Foundation Support in the Region in Line with the National Average

In 2012, of total foundation dollars awarded in each of eight metropolitan areas, San Francisco ranked fifth in the share of those dollars that go to arts and culture.

DATA SOURCE: Foundation Center, 2015. Based on all grants of $10,000 or more awarded by a national sample of larger U.S. foundations. For community foundations, only discretionary grants are included. Grants to individuals are not included in the file.

Alternative Giving Vehicles, Such as Kickstarter, Are Making a Mark

More than $24.6 million was raised on the crowdfunding platform for arts and culture-related projects in the Bay Area in 2013.

DATA SOURCE: Kickstarter, 2013. Includes funded projects in Sustain Arts’ seven arts and cultural disciplines, as well as food, games, product design, and technology.

Regional Arts Participation May Lag Behind Nation

Demographic analyses suggest that arts participation rates in the Bay Area may lag behind national averages. Comparing demographics and related participation rates of national arts audiences to those in the region suggests public demand for theater, humanities, and dance may be lower than the nation.

DATA SOURCE: National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 2012.


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