Arts in Greater Hartford: Vibrant Yes, But Challenged by a Lack of Diversity and Shrinking Financial Resources

There’s good news and plenty of other news in an ambitious study of the arts community in Greater Hartford, initiated by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Connecticut Office of the Arts last year and released in final form this spring.

What emerged from the effort to “better understand the dynamics of the Greater Hartford’s arts industry” was a picture of an arts ecosystem populated by a passionate set of creative individuals, committed to serving audiences and bringing great arts experiences to the region, officials pointed out.  Serious and substantial challenges also emerged, and both the Hartford Foundation and the Connecticut Office of the Arts intend to use the results of the study to inform additional grant making and support strategies.

The 56-page Greater Hartford Arts Landscape Study 2019 found Hartford’s overall creative vitality is greater than the U.S. average and equal to the state average, and the report “emphasized that Greater Hartford residents participate in the arts at a higher rate than people in Worcester, New Haven, or Boston MSAs and the national average.”

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The data analysis also determined that there were 17,446 artist jobs in the Hartford MSA in 2017, a 10 percent increase since 2012. Among these jobs, art/design made up 53 percent of jobs; performing, 23 percent; and writing/editing, 24 percent. A cautionary note: artist jobs in Greater Hartford are growing at a slower pace than in peer metro areas, the study found.

Focus groups conducted last fall revealed that “there are different audiences for different genres, and audiences patronize offerings close to home because they are unwilling to travel around the region for new arts experiences.” The study found, however, that “the density of arts organizations in Greater Hartford is comparable to metro areas like Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.” The per capita spending in Greater Hartford - $133 per Greater Hartford resident spent by arts organizations - is higher than Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, and Philadelphia, although it falls short of Boston and Minneapolis, the study noted.

The study concluded that “Artists feel like they are largely on their own to build their careers, develop their artistry, and create a following for their work” and that “one-third of Greater Hartford’s arts organizations exhibit signs of financial fragility.” 

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The study also revealed, related to the demographics or staff and consumers for arts and culture in Greater Hartford, that:

·         Despite the efforts of many organizations, people of color are not proportionately represented in Greater Hartford’s art workforce. Latinx artists and organizations were particularly underrepresented based on workforce surveys.

·         While participation is high relative to the national average, data show that a majority of the region’s residents do not regularly utilize arts and cultural offerings.

·         Baby Boomers (age 54-73) compose 59 percent of senior staff in the arts workforce, but they are only 32 percent of the total Greater Hartford population. Focus group participants expressed concern about the readiness of next generation leaders to take the helm when the Baby Boomers retire.

It also noted that “dance appears to be a particularly small and shrinking discipline, based on a review of artist occupation data. At the same time, dance is the one discipline where people of color participate at the same rate as whites.”

The geographic scope of the study was the 29-town region served by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The study also offered insights into issues related to the finances of arts and cultural organizations, including:

•        The growth rate of arts funding in the Greater Hartford Region is not keeping pace with the national trend. The total grant dollars grew from $10.1 million in 2012 to $11.3 million in 2016. While this 12 percent growth rate outpaced the inflation rate of 8 percent, it is far lower than the 29 percent growth of funding to arts nonprofits nationally, reported by Giving USA.

•        While there may be an impression that large organizations are getting more than their fair share of support, an analysis of institutional funding demonstrates that this perception does not hold true. Despite the fact that large organizations account for 68 percent of total expenses, they receive only 41 percent of total funding. Mid-sized and small organizations, on the other hand, receive disproportionately larger slices of support from funders.

•        The data show that funding is not proportionately distributed by type of arts organizations. Arts service organizations and history/humanities appear to be receiving disproportionately large portions of support from funders. While history organizations make up 17 percent of arts spending, they received 25 percent of the 2016 grants. Community and media organizations receive smaller proportions of funding support

•        Arts organizations are highly dependent on contributed revenue (as compared to earned revenue). This is particularly true of history / humanities organizations, community organizations, and public radio / television.

•        One third of Greater Hartford’s arts organizations exhibit signs of financial fragility. While this rate is similar to those found in other communities, it appears that there are disparities based on discipline and budget size. Dance appears to be a particularly small and shrinking discipline, based on a review of artist occupation data.

In response to these findings, the Hartford Foundation plans to develop strategies to support leadership transitions that provide increased opportunities for more diverse leadership in the arts. Among the strategies being considered are establishing a 12-month fellowship program to recruit people of color in the early to mid-stages of their arts career, and convening artists of color to get input that will inform the Foundation’s efforts to cultivate a more diverse arts workforce. The report highlighted that nurturing younger, more diverse leaders will be a critical challenge for the arts ecosystem, parrticularly as Baby Boomers age out of the workforce.


In an effort to support individual artists and smaller organizations, the Foundation will work with the Office of the Arts and other Regional Service Organizations to convene a large group of local artists this fall to discuss ways the Foundation can better support local artists and smaller arts and cultural organizations. This could include providing support for back office administrative functions that individual artists and smaller organizations may struggle to implement.

Bottom line of the study, conducted for the two Connecticut organizations by Boston-based TDC and DataArts, is that the arts sector is struggling with a limited pool of support for their work – with precious dollars allocated toward other critical needs in the community. Making matters even more challenging is an uneven distribution of arts activity, participation, and support, suggesting the need for re-doubled efforts to address issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“The arts are an incredible asset in our region, which when properly leveraged can support community and resident well-being including physical and mental health, education and learning, economic vitality, social cohesion and community development,” said Hartford Foundation Senior Vice President Judy Rozie-Battle. “This study provides us with invaluable information about the current state of the Greater Hartford arts ecosystem which the Foundation will use to inform our own arts and cultural investments and programmatic work.”

“The Office of the Arts was pleased to partner with the Hartford Foundation on this study which takes a deeper dive into the needs and challenges faced by Hartford’s creative population and the organizations that support it,” said Liz Shapiro, Director of Arts, Preservation & Museums at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. “COA has made tackling questions of equity, access, diversity and inclusion a priority reflected in our grant-making across opportunities, and specifically through our Arts Workforce Initiative (started in 2017), ARTE- Accessible Grants, and our READI Talks for young urban creatives.”

The comprehensive study provides demographic and funding data on arts and cultural organizations in the Hartford region. This effort also included a workforce survey of local organizations in the field.

Early findings from the research were shared in two public forums on November 7, 2018 and March 25, 2019, and discussion from these convenings helped to refine the findings as they appear in the report, officials said.

“The arts are an asset that have not yet been strategically leveraged in Greater Hartford, the report concludes. “Research suggests that the arts can support community and resident well-being in a myriad of ways, including physical and mental health, education and learning, economic vitality, and social cohesion. Moreover, when partnered with stakeholders in other domains in creative placemaking efforts, the arts can support community development.”