By Kaisee Riddell, AEI Lab graduate student research assistant
As the world reacts to the impact of COVID-19, some leaders in the arts world are considering the long-term impacts that it might have on the industry and how it will be changed after this pandemic. In fact, NPR reported on April 24, 2020, that two-thirds of artists are now unemployed due to the effects of the virus. As we all consider how our lives will be impacted by this crisis, we can reflect on thoughts offered from leaders of arts organizations across the nation.
Finances and funding
Alan Brown, a principal at WolfBrown consulting, notes on March 26 that there is a grim outlook for artists.
“It is possible that many organizations with fixed assets like buildings, long-term leases, and collections of art and artifacts will face a difficult choice between insolvency and selling or abandoning some of these assets,” he writes.
Brown also notes that funding for artists during this time is critical and poses many moral dilemmas. Choices must be made ranging from starting a new program, funding someone’s basic necessities, and deciding which projects continue and which do not. Not every organization or program is going to make it through this crisis, and the process of deciding which ones do will involve some difficult decisions. This process begins, Brown says, by “committing to a collectively-adopted framework for deploying capital into a highly-stressed sector, with one eye on the short-term and the other fixed on a horizon not yet in view, but considerably brighter.” That is to say that those with funding resources will be the ones making the decisions, so decision-makers should adopt a collective framework to guide those choices.
Senior leadership within Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, also have some comments about funding during the time of COVID-19. On April 8, they praised nonprofit coalitions in the United States for their part in making sure that philanthropic causes were included in the CARES Act passed in March, but say that more needs to be done to ensure that philanthropic strategy isn’t compromised and that marginalized groups are protected. They say, “Every philanthropic strategy depends on the health of nonprofits. A philanthropist’s work can be no stronger than the nonprofit organizations actually doing the work.”
Strengthening creative communities
If you needed more convincing on why supporting the arts during this time is important, Randy Cohen, vice president of research and information at Americans for the Arts, has you covered. On March 23, he wrote 10 reasons why supporting the arts in 2020 is essential, including that arts spark innovation, bring customers to local businesses, and improve healthcare through arts programming for patients. In the time after COVID-19, each of these functions will be critical in reinvigorating society. As Cohen says, the future may remain uncertain, but we can be certain that “when it is time to stop practicing social distancing, it is the arts that will unify us.”
Also commenting on the ability of arts to strengthen communities is Sara Horowitz, founder of Freelancers Union and current CEO of Trupo. She notes on March 12 that many people feel lonely and anxious during this time, and it can be immensely helpful to maintain community by simply “dropping a line” to those in your community to let them know you’re there to help. “The best thing we can do is to reach out and help each other, whether by calling our family members to make sure everyone’s up to date on safety protocol, to starting a group chat with friends in case they need anything,” says Horowitz.
Research in the arts
Research is another area of the arts world facing uncertainty due to COVID-19. On March 27, Peter Linett, president of consulting firm Slover Linett, said that research is still important, but it matters in different ways.
“Sometimes it’s just about acknowledging the global crisis with participants before diving in, and sometimes it’s about letting the crisis be the content,” he writes.
Linett hopes to assure those who follow the firm’s work that they are still conducting research, it is just being done from home. How COVID-19 will impact research efforts is yet to be seen, but one possibility is that more research will be conducted remotely than ever before.
Contribute through creativity
What other ways can arts organizations contribute during this time? What is their role? Hasan Bakhshi, director of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and the executive director of Creative economy and data analytics at Nesta, wrote on April 8 that while the arts sector has arguable been hit harder than other sectors, they are stepping up to provide new programming, making exhibits available online, going virtual with their events, and extending access to their materials. According to him and co-author Professor Giorgio Fazio, the role of the creative sector in this time might be “keeping the nation educated, creative and entertained with radio and TV programmes, video games, filmed theatre, movies, art, books, music, podcasts and crafts.”
If you are looking for ways to help during COVID-19, CEO of OF/BY/FOR ALL Nina Simon has some advice: be creative. “We’re a creative sector, and I think we could get more creative,” she says. “In the race to deliver, I worry we may distract ourselves from the potential to envision and deliver true community value.” Simon’s four-step process published on March 29 can help you create a plan that will utilize your assets and help a community.
Crisis as opportunity for the arts
Several leaders in the arts world see this crisis as somewhat of an opportunity; the world is going to be changed, and they believe artists need to seize this moment so that priorities shift towards them post-COVID. John Michael Schert, a member of the technical working group at the Arts, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation Lab said the following on a podcast episode of Idaho Matters on April 6: “After a crisis . . . it’s always the artists that shape the narrative and help us think about who we are now.”
Angie Kim, CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation and a partner of the AEI Lab, said on March 26 that after COVID-19, “The goal should be to propel forward as far as possible. We have a real opportunity to catapult new systems—solutions that, I wish, had started yesterday.” Kim recommends that we prioritize equity in response to this crisis, and that any relief funds should prioritize individuals in addition to funding organizations.
Karen Gahl-Mills, a senior advisor to the Center for Cultural Affairs which houses the AEI Lab, summarizes this sentiment of seizing the moment nicely:
“I’m challenging myself to think of this as a time of possibility. Art will survive. Music will survive. People being creative and sharing their creative talents with others—that will survive, too. Our systems and our structures, particularly in the formal, 501c3 non-profit arts world, were due for some renovation, and the storm around us has simply accelerated our timeline for doing that work. . . . We have a unique opportunity to ask ourselves what kind of frameworks we want and need for our present moment, and then we will get to create those frameworks. We will get to build new systems and structures to serve creative people and communities in new ways. We will get to operate inclusively with a real eye toward building equitable practices into our work. And we will get to do all of that without being hamstrung by ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking. Let’s not waste that opportunity.”