Arts Impact Survey Shows $23.1M in Local Losses

February 1, 2021 – Asheville, N.C. | The Asheville Area Arts Council’s most recent arts impact survey further highlights the devastating impact of COVID on the Buncombe County creative sector.  Findings show $23.1 million in lost revenue since March 2020, with 16 businesses likely to close in the next 3 months.

According to Americans for the Arts, 66% of arts businesses in North Carolina remain severely impacted by the pandemic and 65% of creative workers in the state have suffered unemployment (the national average is 52%). Recovery has also proven to be slower in Buncombe County than in other markets. In a presentation on January 19 to county commissioners, Buncombe County Budget Analyst Rusty Mau reported that nearby Greenville lost 44.4% of hospitality and leisure jobs as compared to Asheville’s 64.4%. Unemployment in Greenville’s hospitality and leisure sector is now 5% while Asheville’s remains at 25%. 

Summary of findings 

Of the 179 survey responses collected by the arts council 13% were from salaried arts professionals, 54% were from self-employed or freelance arts professionals, 22% were from nonprofit arts businesses, and 11% were from for-profit arts businesses. Before the pandemic, it is estimated that there were over 500 arts businesses in Buncombe County, and close to 10,000 creative jobs.

Findings showed over $23.1 million in lost revenue from March to December 2020 when compared with 2019 totals. Responses from arts businesses also show 504 fewer jobs now than in March 2020. Business closure remains a top concern for businesses and arts professionals with 40 businesses reporting they could last another 6 months or less without further aid― 16 of those reported that they are likely to close in the next 3 months. 

Before COVID, 68% of arts professionals reported they were making enough from their creative sector jobs to cover their expenses. That number has now dropped to 38%. Buncombe County has a high number of freelance or “gig” workers, making extended unemployment benefits a crucial means for support. 20% of arts professionals reported receiving these benefits.

Of the relief aid received, the Payroll Protection Program Loan (PPP) and the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) remain the top means of support. Locally, the Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Fund and the NC CARES for the Arts grants have also provided important means of relief aid.

Many local arts businesses are hopeful that another round of PPP loans and the new Shutter Venue Operators Grant (Save our Stages) will provide some much-needed support, but fear it will not be enough. Locally, the county is gearing up for another round of One Buncombe funding for individuals and businesses. Results from the arts council’s last two surveys have shown that very little funding from this program has reached arts professionals and businesses, so it remains to be seen how this will impact the creative sector in the next round. 

The biggest concerns remain focused on business closure and the ripple effect it will have on arts professionals and Buncombe County’s vibrant arts community. While relief aid is the top need, rent and debt forgiveness were also high on the list as well as affordable work, rehearsal, and studio space.

To learn more about the local creative sector visit


Founded in 1952, the Asheville Area Arts Council (AAAC) is the designated arts agency for Buncombe County. Their mission is to keep the arts at the heart of our community. AAAC fulfills this mission by supporting arts organizations and artists in Buncombe County through advocacy, public art, and services for creatives. Visit the arts council’s website to learn more: