Artists Reimagine the Times During Pandemic
By Dianne Anderson
Since the shutdown of all open artistic spaces, creative types everywhere are mastering their muse toward a digital flair.
They’re live streaming their craft, they’re developing and holding online art classes. They’re virtually reimagining the possibilities from afar.
Within her field, artist Jennifer Kane has been inspired to see the rapid reorganization of how events and gatherings are coming together despite Covid-19 constraints. Fundraisers keep arts and businesses alive. Online auctions are cropping up with the sale of individual works.
It’s been both exhilarating, and unnerving. She said the Arts Connection have also pivoted their in-person exhibition to an online platform during the pandemic.
“We launched a website with art for sale. We figured out how to host a second Saturday open mic and virtual performances for two hours,” said Kane, executive director of Arts Connection, which is The Arts Council of San Bernardino County.
For now, and well into the future, she feels the key is staying responsive to technology, and learning to engage the public from a distance. Shifting art to virtual classrooms and online education is another long-term focus.
“How do we continue to pay artists for their time if their in-person services are no longer required?” she asks. “We’re starting to think about that in the field. We’re looking at how to encourage artists to be their own advocate for their work and the amount of time they put in.”
Despite the quarantine, artists are upbeat as they develop their technology skills. She said more art classes are going online for the public that might not have otherwise been available.
Economic sustainability is another great concern. Usually, artists are self-employed as adjunct teachers with side gigs, but so many gigs and events have been canceled or postponed. She said professionals with art career teaching positions in secondary or higher education are fortunate to keep their jobs, but they are also adapting to the new life.
“Because this is considered a natural disaster, there’s now pandemic unemployment assistance, PUA, that opens up unemployment to the self-employed for the first time,” she added. “April 28 is when applications [open]for unemployed is now going to be extended.”
Art Connection is also advocating for more relief efforts to provide policy language that applies to self-employed within creative industries, especially caring for performers that will be hit with the loss of money and contracts until the public gathers together again for shows and concerts.
In these times, she emphasizes the world leans on the arts for inspiration, for the painters, the writers. Until there are better models to deal with creative sustainability, she believes that society must give them support.
“I feel like we as a society need to band together to say how can we think of creative ways to keep our dancers, our writers and our painters employed,” she said.
Some relief funding and support have been made available for arts in other metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but she emphasizes that support shouldn’t just be available in times of crisis. It should be sustainable, and flow down through policies and structures from the county government down to cities, neighborhoods, and into individual homes.
“The way we talk about art as vital to the community well-being, it’s just at the heart of who we are as human beings,” she said.
Kathryn Ervin, a professor in the CSUSB Department of Theatre Arts, is also hearing from her poetic colleagues and playwrights that they’re using the isolated downtime to produce more works, get through their writing, research and constructing.
But for collaborative artists, the shutdown has been much harder.
Musicians can rehearse online, but they can’t rehearse everything. The symphony, for instance, is hard to virtually perform because of a time-lapse. A uniform vibe will be a challenge.
“In the theater, we’re kind of flummoxed here,” Prof. Ervin said.
Right now, they are in the production of “Once Upon a Mattress.” Actors are still learning the music, rehearsals are ongoing, and they’ve read through rehearsals using Zoom, she said.
Some of the body of work is being captured on film to build up the archive of the play come fall. She hopes by the time they return in September or October, they can present a concert version or realized version of the play in some way.
Other colleagues are taking a similar approach, moving whatever was planned for the spring to the fall production. It solves a couple of problems, but not all.
They must have access to the theaters.
“Will we be able to rehearse together and put the show together and come back in the fall and present it online? Everyone will be in masks, and the masks will be real masks,” she said.
At the same time, there is an air of optimism. At least for the technology side, artists are being creative in ways they never envisioned. Stories will be captured of inspiration, of the struggle, and courage today that will resonate through society for a long time to come.
Recently, she was talking to colleagues about how this time in life calls for inventive ways to survive.
“You’ve seen all the pictures in New York of those who stand on the porch and sing all together. Things like that are going to have to be the way,” she said. “There’s still a world out there, there’s still people in it, face masks and all. There’s still socialization happening in these very small ways.”
For more information on PUA, see