Virus Impact. Self-Censorship.

COVID-19 and the Arts

This month I thought a mention of the Coronavirus was in order since it is having a significant impact on arts and cultural organizations, as well as on numerous other facets of our lives. The NY Times article offers examples of how arts organizations are trying to adapt to this expanding health crisis. However, since this article was published early last week, the level of uncertainty has continued to escalate, and the disruption of arts programming is increasing daily.

I imagine class discussions (or staff meetings) centered around emergency preparedness and risk management have already been taking place in the last few weeks. Discussing the process of scenario planning, which is covered in Chapter 5, might be useful when considering possible outcomes of this virus outbreak. For example, what are some of the scenarios that could unfold should controlling the spread of the virus ends up taking months? Exploring the topic of operating cash reserves could also be of interest. While we all hope this crisis ends soon, arts organizations without contingency plans and sufficient liquid cash flow could be facing a very bumpy road ahead. (I inserted a link to the Nonprofit Risk Management Center website below if you want an additional resource to review. )

Self-Censorship in the Arts

The ArtsProfessional magazine in the United Kingdom made its extensive survey report “Freedom of Expression” available late last month, and it is a fascinating read. The 38-page report and the two Appendices portray wide-spread self-censorship by artists, while strong support remains for freedom of expression. The summary section the report notes

Summarising the opinions that people would be wise to keep to themselves is a slightly ad hoc process that fails to do justice to the many and varied circumstances when individuals have experienced a backlash for having expressed their views. Nonetheless, the conclusion must surely be that there is a pervasive received ideology across the sector, and publicly stating opinions outside of certain norms is widely thought to be a career-breaker. (p.37)

One of the many additional values of this report is that it can stimulate questions about how self-censorship plays out among arts managers. There are many topics to explore related to this report, including changing social norms in the age of social media and how the problems discussed by the survey respondents might be positively addressed. The long list of comments in Appendix B is revealing and also troubling. [Note: The survey participation was self-selecting, and therefore the reader needs to be careful when assessing the validity of the results.]

These two topics should give you lots to ponder this month. Thanks again for subscribing to these updates to Management and the Arts.

Bill Byrnes


When the Show Must Go On, Even Amid a Coronavirus Outbreak

By Michael Cooper and Alex Marshall, New York Times, March 5, 2020

Learning to perform without live audiences, or sometimes even theaters, as artists adapt to trying circumstances.

Venice’s ornate opera house, La Fenice, has survived floods and been rebuilt after devastating fires. So it was determined to keep going after the coronavirus forced it to cancel its performances: This week a string quartet gathered in the empty, eerily silent theater and played Beethoven, streaming the concert online and winning an ovation of handclap emojis.

The company’s general manager, Fortunato Ortombina, said that the virtual concert had been intended to send a message: “We still play in this place.”

While the coronavirus has taken a big toll on the arts world in terms of closed venues and canceled events, it has also spurred plenty of show-must-go-on creativity in some of the hardest-hit areas, as performers and organizations have tried to adapt to trying circumstances.

Here’s the link to the article:


Nonprofit Risk Management Center at

Risk eNews – COVID-19: Five Things to Know and Do


Free to speak? Not if you work in the arts

ArtsProfesional, Liz Hill, February 22, 2020

You might expect those working in the cultural sector to be open and tolerant of each other, welcoming of debate and diverse opinion, and prepared to stand up and challenge the status quo. Indeed, nine out of ten respondents to AP’s Freedom of Expression survey, published today, agreed that “The arts and cultural sector has a responsibility to use its unique talents to speak out about things that matter, regardless of the potential consequences” – a very positive endorsement of the importance of free speech.

But nothing could be further from the truth. More than eight out of ten survey respondents agreed that “workers in the arts and cultural sector who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised”. The overwhelming message that comes across from more than 1,000 free text comments – running to 60,000 words – is neatly summed up by one person, who said “I often feel pressured to self-censor for fear of being ‘cancelled’ or bullied for not conforming to the orthodoxy”.

Here’s the link to the article:

Here’s the link to the Pulse report: Freedom of Expression