The Arts Partnership is looking out over the landscape of our Metro from the same vantage point of nearly everyone in the world – a place of unprecedented unknowns – and we are filled with both gratitude and anxiety at the current state of the arts.
I meet monthly with a number of the arts leaders for an informal gathering. It’s a safe place to share our successes, air our grievances and lift each other up. We’ve been doing this for more than two years now, and I can’t tell you how important these meetings have become to me and how transformational they have been for the sector as a whole. We have built a high level of trust, support and camaraderie, and that goes a long way towards presenting a more unified arts collective.
Are there very real fears around the arts groups as to what life after COVID-19 and social isolation looks like?
You bet. Because let’s be honest, no organization or artist living in the Metro before this shut down was wondering how to manage all the money coming in. And what we are learning every day is that a number of our regular funders are diverting their arts dollars to other, more pressing matters right now. And I (mostly) understand that, but it is creating incredible stress around how to think about planning the next annual budget, for example, which starts for most of us on July 1.
But two things gave me such tremendous pride in the artists and leaders of our pillar arts institutions this week:
If you look online, you will see a phenomenal pivot from this sector.
Whether it’s creating virtual tours of art collections or live zoom readings of plays or making coloring books with images from local artists or providing free classes or highlighting graduating performers or doing large scale drawings for people out and about to safely interact with or free concerts popping up or…the local arts sector has not shriveled up and died. Instead, we have done what artists do best: we have looked at an insurmountable challenge and we have creatively problem solved it.
We will continue to do that as long as it takes because the arts show up in times of trauma and distress. We do the work even when there’s no stage, no clear audience and no funding. Because we are the makers of the very core of what makes us human – art.
My hope is that people remember that what saved their sanity and brought comfort during this time of isolation was the arts: movies, streamed theatrical, opera, dance and symphonic productions, music, literature, art making themselves, chalk art, hearts in windows and so. much. more.
At our Monday meeting, we spent a little time expressing our fears, but then the conversation very quickly turned to gratitude. Gratitude for the funders who have stepped in. Gratitude for the entities who have reached out to offer a grace period on loans, rent payments, etc. Gratitude to the businesses who have helped to solve a piece of the complex, problematic puzzle that is staying afloat without any income from performances and ticket sales, classes, art sales, fundraisers, etc.
I opted out of providing a list because in these critical times, it’s really important that funders not get accidentally overlooked or left off the list, so please know that if you are playing a role in helping this sector stay afloat, we appreciate you more than we can perhaps adequately articulate!
Finally, I wanted to provide two articles I read this week that are of tremendous value going forward. I have often expressed frustration in the past when artists note that they will “make the art whether there is funding available or not.”
I think that’s a dangerous precedent to set because why pay for art if you don’t have to? I wasn’t really imagining a global pandemic when I was talking about this in 2013 when this blog was published, so I can honestly say that I have been delighted with the abundance of local, national and international art that has been freely made and given to the world.
BUT, as this first article so beautifully sums up, this type of art making is absolutely not sustainable. For my part, I’m not sure that this level of creation can even last the duration of our social isolation period much less the long road back to economic stability the whole world is going to encounter when we can finally leave our homes and go back to “normal” again.
And the second article from “Medium” explains why we gather, why assembly is so vital to our central being and how theatre in particular encapsulates that primal need. Writer Nicholas Berger says, “In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe writes ‘A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.’ Our need for each other is fundamental and it is this very need that the theatre so brilliantly capitalizes on.”
We may never reach our old normal again, and I believe that that is ok.
There was a lot about pre-COVID-19 that wasn’t great. I hope that our new normal recognizes all that we enjoyed during this time of social isolation, all that we embraced, all that reminded us that at our core, we crave music, story telling, art, dance and creativity. It is those elements that are giving us the capacity to endure and a reason to hope.