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Canadian culture lovers donated less than they expected to to arts organizations last year, a Nanos Research survey has found, even as many such organizations struggle to stay financially healthy in the postlockdown era.

The survey, conducted in October on behalf of the arts-advocacy charity Business / Arts and the National Arts Centre as part of a broader survey of 1,058 Canadians, sought to assess Canadians’ cultural consumption and donation habits. While a similar Nanos poll a year earlier found that people who identified as culture lovers intended to donate $147 to organizations in the sector in 2022, this year’s survey found that their actual donations averaged only $97 last year. The proportion of culture-goers who reported making donations to the sector stayed flat at 31 per cent.

Pollster Nik Nanos said in an interview that the findings suggest that “2024 is going to be a difficult year for the arts and culture sector for raising funds.”

Revenues have been growing for many arts organizations since COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns subsided, but economic factors could hamper the continued health of the industry. Statistics Canada warned last August that for arts and entertainment organizations, “a full recovery will be influenced by inflation and the costs of essentials, as well as the discretionary income of households, which could delay the full return of revenues to pre-pandemic levels.”

Nanos also said that other organizations, such as those supporting humanitarian causes, particularly in an era of conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, may be commanding a greater share of donors’ charitable giving as well.

The decrease in arts-and-culture donations is “troubling,” but not surprising, said Business / Arts chief executive officer Aubrey Reeves, given the public’s spending constraints. “We need to be asking more frequently, and we need to make our requests clearer.”

Juniper Locilento, who became the chief executive officer of the National Arts Centre Foundation last summer, said that “the trend is fewer donors, larger donations, and that’s not going to go away. But how do you show people that even their small gift, even if they want to make a $10 or $20 gift, then those add up, and they have an aggregate impact?”

Locilento said these findings should help the Ottawa-based performing-arts organization focus their strategy. “It has me working with my colleagues responsible for audience engagement, looking at: what is that experience of an audience member when they come into our building, what information they have about what it costs to put on the show, and what the opportunity is for them to play a role in that.”

The Nanos survey found that nearly a quarter of culture fans who hadn’t made donations to arts and culture organizations had not been asked to. Among fans between the ages of 18 to 34, meanwhile, the percentage who weren’t asked to make donations rose to 30 per cent – even though that age cohort reported a willingness to make donations similar in size to the 35-to-54 year-old crowd. “There’s real potential to connect with young donors,” Reeves said. (The 55-plus demographic, with more disposable income, more than doubled those younger groups in donation size, with an average of $141.)

Asked if the survey’s findings suggest a greater role for government arts-granting organizations to play in the sector, the pollster Nanos cautioned that such a shift may create the opposite effect as would be intended. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he said, pointing to the survey’s finding that a third of culture fans say they don’t donate to the sector because their taxes already support it.

The survey was conducted by phone and online between Oct. 1 and Oct. 4 as part of a broader omnibus Nanos survey with a margin of error of plus-or-minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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