Scotland’s visual art scene is at serious risk from the long-term impacts of COVID-19, a new survey reports.

The Scottish Contemporary Art Network’s COVID-19 Impact Survey reveals that more than a third of individual art workers had lost all their income in April, while over a third of venues and production facilities had lost more than half of their income. Seven out of ten organisations said that they were likely to cancel programmes or projects as a result of the pandemic and nearly one in six forecast job cuts.

The survey, published yesterday, is the only one of its kind for the visual art sector in the UK.

Director of SCAN, Clare Harris said, “Artists, art workers and arts organisations are interconnected, with many in the visual art workforce making a living from their own practice combined with a range of work. Our survey gives us a view across the visual art infrastructure and highlights to government and funding bodies the extent of the crisis and the very real impacts on livelihoods.

“As governments across the UK begin to roll out lockdown exit-planning, we need to work hard for a recovery that will enable the visual art community to get back on its feet and continue to produce work that has a far-reaching benefit for our society.”

The survey took place in April, asking the visual arts community about the impact of the pandemic, to inform advocacy with government and funders. It was open to those usually working within the visual art sector in Scotland and generated 108 responses from individuals and from those representing organisations.

With lockdown continuing, many arts organisations have continued to work in communities across Scotland via online programmes, festivals and education initiatives. But, SCAN reports, the loss of ticket sales and the cancellation of classes, workshops, venue hire and catering mean many are fearful for the future.

Beth Bate, director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, whose facilities include a cinema, café/bar, open access print studio and gallery, told of her experience:

“Institutions like ours play a key role in our society: as employers; as a place for audiences to access a broad and vibrant range of creative experiences; as a source of sustained and sustaining community engagement; as a vital platform for artists at all stages of their careers through exhibiting in the galleries, participating in our public programmes or working in our production facilities; and as a key part of the tourism economy. The risks the sector faces will affect all elements of our work and must be mitigated in the coming weeks and months.

“DCA is in a relatively fortunate position thanks to our track record of financially responsible management and the concerted effort we’ve put into diversifying our income. But despite those efforts, the current situation leaves us exposed to enormous risk in the medium to long term.”

In Burra, Shetland, the artist-led community space Gaada is continuing to work with local artists during lockdown, running online activities as well as delivering art materials to residents across the island.

Daniel Clark and Amy Gear, the artists who run it, have been able to access a Small Business Grant, but without financial support their work would have been at risk.

“Prior to the enforced lockdown, we had already begun conversations with our community of artists living with disabilities, many of whom have immune-comprising conditions which we knew would mean they would have to self-isolate for a much longer period than the wider population. Their feedback really made clear to us how important the regular contact of Gaada’s weekly artist one-to-one workshops is.”

Big city venues have different challenges but are equally worried. Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, GoMA, has moved many of its regular activities online, which has forced the institution to rethink the sort of audiences it can reach.

“Audiences always come first,” says museum manager Gareth James. “Despite this unusual situation, the main focus of our work remains the same: to provide our audiences with engaging and interesting content based around our museum collections.

“We will see a significant drop in income from donations, from the shop and café. The tourist market will be dramatically reduced, because people just can’t get to us. We still don’t know whether we will have visitors who’ve come into the city to do their work or shopping. As we await further guidelines, we’re thinking about how our audience will change.

“GoMA has always been hugely popular with the visiting public and we’re sure that will be that case in the future.  But at the moment we just don’t know when we’ll be able to safely welcome visitors back in.  One thing we do know is that contemporary art practice is endlessly inventive, and that gives us hope.”

Read SCAN’s full statement here