Latino artists report lower rates of health insurance, greater economic losses and higher unemployment. A higher number of them have seen their health or their family’s health directly impacted by COVID-19.

Latino artists and COVID

Adi Talwar

Martha Nora Zarate-Alvarez founder and Artistic Director of Mazarte Dance Company practicing with her team in Central Park on a cold Sunday in December 2020.

This article originally appeared in Spanish.

Lea la versión en español aquí.

It’s been clear for months that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos. Less visible is that this disparity also applies to the arts.

Latino artists not only report higher economic losses than white artists but also higher unemployment rates due to the pandemic. They are also more likely to be uninsured, and to have seen their health or their family’s health directly affected by COVID-19. They report greater family or social responsibilities that have impacted their ability to do creative work.

All of these differentiated impacts are visible in preliminary data obtained by City Limits from surveys conducted by Americans for the Arts in partnership with Artist Relief, organizations that since April have been taking the pulse of individual artists and creative workers at the national, state and local levels.

A national story

According to the survey, 70 percent of Latino artists have become totally unemployed due to COVID-19 nationally, compared to 60 percent of white artists. Additionally, 80 percent of Latino artists have experienced an increase in unexpected expenses, compared to 64 percent of white artists.

The pandemic has reduced more than half of the expected income for all artists in 2020. Both groups have seen a massive drop in income (58.3 percent for Latinos and 57.5 percent for whites), although nationally white artists expected to earn more than Latino artists in 2020: $40,000 versus $36,000, respectively.

The pandemic has also hit artists’ savings: 66 percent of Latino artists report no savings at present, compared to 48 percent of white artists. Those disparities were visible, though less dire, even before the pandemic, when 35 percent of Latino artists had no savings compared to 24 percent of white artists.

“I will say that, for certain, the pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinx artists, as their families and communities have been hardest hit,” says Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Creativity and Free Expression Program Officer at Ford Foundation.

At the same time, more Latino artists are uninsured, in line with the national trend among Latinos overall: Just over half (53 percent) of Latino artists have comprehensive health insurance, compared to 73 percent of white artists.

“Artists were struggling before the pandemic, and now it is more,” says Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and president and founder of the Creative Justice Initiative (CJI), an organization advocating for the equitable funding of cultural organizations in the country.

Read our coverage of New York City’s Coronavirus crisis.

A broader struggle

The health and financial disparities among artists echo broader inequalities in the arts world, and beyond. According to Moreno Vega, the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement “have brought up racism to the table and the data also show that large [cultural] institutions hire more white people, especially when it comes to high-level leadership positions and board members.”

On top of that, both Moreno Vega and Aranda-Alvarado point out, Latino cultural institutions have received less money recently.

According to Hispanics in Philanthropy, funding for Latino cultural organizations fell more than 60 percent over the four most recent years for which data was available, from just over $40 million in 2013 to $15.5 million in 2017. Disparities also exist between mainstream cultural organizations and those serving Latinos and other communities of color. “The 20 largest mainstream organizations have a median budget of $61 million; the 20 largest organizations of color have a median budget size of $3.8 million,” a ratio of roughly 16:1, according to the DeVos Institute’s 2015 study on diversity in the arts nationwide.

Reports have been published for years highlighting funding inequalities in the arts sector; a 2017 study found that 60 percent of arts funding goes to 2 percent of cultural institutions, primarily focused on Western European fine arts traditions whose audiences remain predominantly white and high-income. On the other hand, “people of color represent 37 percent of the population, but just 4 percent of all foundation arts funding is allocated to groups whose primary mission is to serve communities of color,” reads the report.

Size does matter

At the national level, the size of cultural organizations might be a predictor of the risk of shutting down completely amid the pandemic. While not all small arts organizations are entities led by or primarily serve people of color, the funding disparities mean that many of those BIPOC-led entities are small.

The smaller the organization, the greater the probability of its closure, according to data obtained from Americans for the Arts survey.

Percent NOT confident their organization will survive the pandemic
BudgetNational level %
Less than $100,0004%
$10,000,000 or more0%

Source:Americans for the Arts

The good news, of course, is that the survey indicates most cultural organizations of all sizes expect to survive. But the doubts are clearly higher for smaller groups.

What cultural organizations anticipate in both New York State and City varies somewhat from the national trend. (See the chart below, which suggests a looser relationship between organization size and their expectations for survival). 

This does not change the fact that smaller cultural organizations have been disproportionately impacted. In June, for example, it was known that small cultural organizations with budgets under $250,000 have been the most affected by the pandemic in New York City. During the first few months of the crisis, they incurred relative losses that ranged from 20 to 30 percent of annual income and incurred unforeseen expenses equivalent to about 20 percent of yearly expenses.

On the other hand, “larger organizations incurred revenue losses of about 15 percent of annual operating revenue and unanticipated expenses equivalent to roughly 2 percent of annual expenses,” reads the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs report.

Percent NOT confident their organization will survive the pandemic
BudgetNew York StateNew York City
Less than $100,0003%3%
$10,000,000 or more0%0%

Source:Americans for the Arts

The feared scenario for Brandon Lorenz, national director of communications and public policy at the Actors’ Equity Association, is that theaters that focus on telling the stories of people of color “will have been less able to survive the closure than predominantly white institutions (a result of the long-established disparity in access to public funding, large donations, etc.), and their departure will result in the loss of jobs that would likely have employed workers of marginalized identities,” he says by email.

Survival amid severe cuts

But serving a community is about more than survival. Even if an organization keeps its doors open, a severe drop in funding could kneecap its ability to carry out its mission. And several of the city’s Latino organizations are reporting major decreases in revenue.

Ballet Hispanico, which celebrated its 50th anniversary and was selected as part of the Ford Foundation Cultural Treasures of America, “went from being a $7 million organization to a $3 million one,” says Director and CEO Eduardo Vilaro—a reduction of more than 50 percent.

The outlook for smaller organizations was also grim. Mazarte Dance Company, which performs traditional Mexican dances in New York, went from being a $30,000 organization to one of just under $10,000 in 2020, a 66 percent total budget reduction.

“We don’t know what 2021 will be like [for us]. We hope for the best, but it’s very complicated,” says Martha Zárate-Alvarez, artistic director of Mazarte Dance Company.

“Some companies charge for their classes. We don’t,” Zárate-Alvarez notes. “We are on the same boat with my community which is primarily from the South Bronx. We know that many children’s family members we work with have died, so how could I charge for what I do? If I can help, then I will.”

Zarate-Alvarez has seen that some of the children he teaches in virtual classes are alone in their homes while their parents work.

Other small organizations such as Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, which promotes Mexican traditions through arts and culture, saw 30 percent of its $250,000 budget completely disappear as their three main activities—public events, private events and school visits—were canceled thanks to the pandemic.

“Now we are planning 2021, but we don’t really have much,” says Juan Aguirre, Mano a Mano’s executive director. “The difficult conversation is happening inside doors: Are we going to keep open? We’ve paid the rent so far and until December of this year, but we’ve only secured 20 percent of the 2021 budget.”

Aguirre estimates that it will take the organization two to three years to get back to where it was before.

Some organizations with budgets above a million dollars, such as Pregones/Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, are in a better situation and have not seen such a drastic budget cut.

“The pandemic forced an 8 percent drop in Pregones/PRTT’s FY20 operating budget. We lost at least $272,000 from unrealized box office and rental income through June 30th, plus an additional $15,000 from unrealized donations to our relief drive for artists in Puerto Rico,” says Arnaldo J. López, Pregones’ managing director, in an email.

Despite the reductions, “we paid all contracts [artists and technicians] in full, regardless of the postponement/cancellation of the event, and distributed an additional $100,000 in support to creatives of color from COVID-19 emergency grant sources. Our FY21 budget is 10 percent less than our initial pre-coronavirus projection,” López added.

Disproportionate impacts in New York

According to the data, the disproportionate economic impact on Latino artists repeats itself in both New York State and New York City. 

For example, there are clear disparities in terms of unanticipated expenditures (81 percent for Latino artists versus 64 percent for white artists); the percentage of Latino artists with no savings (63 percent versus 48 percent for white artists) and the impact on the health of Latino artists or their families (35 percent versus 15 percent for white artists).

Some disparities, like the income that artists of different backgrounds expect to earn this year, mirror pre-pandemic realities. Lorenz says that from 2016 to 2019, Latinx Equity members across five jobs—principal play actor, principal musical actor, chorus actor, stage manager, and assistant stage manager—tended to make less than the average salaries for those positions both in New York City and nationwide.

“The one exception,” he adds, “was principal actors in musicals country-wide, where they tended to earn very slightly above average.”

Post-COVID unemployment among Latino artists living in New York City was slightly higher than the rate among Latino artists nationally: 78 percent vs 70 percent.

“All I got was canceled: I had 12 concerts scheduled; I was going to London in the summer for a play. I have not generated much income for eight months,” says Mauricio Martínez, an actor and singer who participated in the Broadway musical “On Your Feet!”

“I’ve sustained myself with my savings, giving master classes and virtual concerts,” the actor says. 

To stay in New York, actress Claudia Mulet, who has been performing on Broadway for three years, returned to editing and producing videos to get by, as well as spending her savings earned from two years on tour with “On Your Feet!” (The gender gap is still rampant on stages, and it manifests itself across ethnicities.)

Even at home, more Latino artists reported an increase in family or social responsibilities that impact their ability to do work compared to white artists: 44 percent versus 36 percent.

Responding to the crisis

There are fears that the pandemic could affect not just the survival of non-white arts organization or the level of services they provide, but also the willingness of the larger arts world to explore diversity. Lorenz wonders whether theaters that survive the pandemic will begin labeling “stories by and about marginalized people as ‘risky’ and decline to produce them while trying to rebuild their solvency with an audience that reflects the major theatre-going audience: white, female, 60+.”

Despite this array of difficulties, the survey found a greater percentage of Latino artists who  reported using their creative practice to address the needs of their community: 79 percent versus 73 percent of white artists nationally, and 76 percent of Latino artists versus 70 percent of white artists in New York City. 

“If there is one positive aspect to this it is that some Latinx artists have focused their work even more intensely on supporting their suffering communities through mutual aid and other socially-engaged acts,” says Aranda-Alvarado.

The disparate threats to arts groups do not only affect Latinos.  

“We know that communities of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and our COVID-19 survey of cultural organizations from earlier this year showed that smaller, community-based groups have likewise suffered most,” says Gonzalo Casals, New York City’s Commissioner for Cultural Affairs, which plays a key funding role for smaller arts organizations: Of the more than 1,000 organizations that DCA funds each year, 500 of them have annual budgets of $250,000 or less. “So this strongly suggests that Latinx artists and arts groups have been disproportionately affected, along with their Black neighbors.” 

While the data paints a fairly clear picture of what’s happening, more research is planned to measure the ways the pandemic has affected Latino artists and artists of color, both nationally and locally. The Ford Foundation is currently working with the Laundromat Project and MuseumHUE “on some research to see how BIPOC artists and organizations have been disproportionately affected by the COVID pandemic in NYC, but this research is still forthcoming and probably won’t be available until some time next year,” says Aranda-Alvarado. 

The lack of granular data “is a huge problem,” emails Arivel Figueroa, producing assistant at Dance/NYC, which is doing its own survey to obtain more data on the impact of the pandemic on arts organizations and among individual artists.

“Overall, governments, states, and local structures need this kind of information to create policy and law,” she says. “The specific demographic data (like race, nationality, gender, disability, etc) in all data related to arts organizations and/or individual artistic work, is [necessary] not only to define necessities in a specific community but to equalize a sector that often has been dominated and directed by white people, and mostly male.”

City Limits’ reporting on the intersection of art and policy is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. City Limits is solely responsible for all content.