Arts groups innovate to fight drop in income caused by COVID


Naia Kete, like so many musicians, has seen her life turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, Kete is busy …

Naia Kete, like so many musicians, has seen her life turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost overnight, Kete’s busy concert schedule as a solo artist and with his reggae group Say Real was canceled, eliminating his main source of income. So when she was approached by Artists at Work, a new initiative that puts artists on a payroll to create and launch programs in their communities, Kete jumped at the chance.

“Just the idea that there is an organization fighting in the name of getting a living wage for artists was something I wanted to be a part of,” she said. “To promote art in this way seemed incredible to me. “

The arts and culture industries have been battered over the past 21 months as organizations put staff on leave, canceled shows and cut budgets to deal with the pandemic. While Americans as a whole donated more to charity last year, a record $ 471.4 billion according to a report by Giving USA, nonprofit arts organizations have seen a decline.

It is not yet clear whether art donations stabilized in 2021, but different initiatives have been launched to help both artists and art institutions.

Live theater and orchestral concerts sponsored by non-profit organizations across the country, as well as high-profile for-profit Broadway shows, have been postponed due to the surge in COVID-19 infections due to the omicron variant. If cancellations escalate in the coming weeks, it could deal a further blow to nonprofit arts organizations which, in July, lost nearly $ 18 billion in revenue during the pandemic, according to the latest Americans estimate. for the Arts. About half a billion in lost revenue was due to canceled events.

Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater reopened in August for its first public event since the pandemic shut it down last year, forcing it to lay off 44 of its 61 full-time employees.

Donna Leiberman, director of development for the theater, said they were able to raise $ 4 million in lost revenue last year through an emergency fundraising campaign. Racial justice protests in June 2020 raised awareness of the Apollo Virtual Gala – nearly 20,000 people attended, she said, a big boost to the theater’s in-person capacity. Apollo’s full-time staff finally returned in January, although work for production and other hourly workers remained limited.

“Being closed off and unable to do what we’re really doing during that period of time was very, very difficult,” said Leiberman. “I was standing in the back of one of our first performances, practically crying with happiness.”

The theater received two nudges this month – a $ 5 million gift from SiriusXM Radio and a grant of more than $ 100,000 from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The agency said it will award $ 51.4 million to more than 1,000 nonprofit arts and culture organizations seeking to recover from the pandemic. Leiberman said the theater will offer a mix of in-person and virtual events next year, but he has not decided whether that will continue in 2023.

Even as COVID-19 infection rates decline, experts believe nonprofit arts associations will continue to use virtual events to create better access to their shows and events. For example, a monthly event in a New York City pub by House of SpeakEasy, a nonprofit literary organization that connects writers to the public, was able to reach 16 new cities and other countries during the pandemic through broadcasts. live and other virtual events, said Paul Morris, executive director of the organization.

“These are people who would never have met us,” Morris said. The nonprofit plans to return to the in-person events at the pub next month, but has also secured funding to allow it to record and publish the shows.

“These people don’t just go away,” Morris said. “We obviously care about them, we are connected to them and we also want to give them something of value. “

The in-person show will continue with an added precaution – all writers and hosts are to undergo a rapid COVID-19 test on the day of the event. Cancellations of shows in New York, Los Angeles and other cities have heightened concerns among some entertainment workers. The fears, in many cases, are justified – job losses in nonprofit arts and culture during the pandemic have been more than three times worse than industry as a whole, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.

Rachel Chanoff, founding director of The Office, the performing arts conservation and production company behind events that include the annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn arts festival, wanted to meet a very specific need once that the pandemic has ended the performing arts events: how do we get artists after months of rent?

Drawing inspiration from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Great Depression Works Progress Administration, Chanoff created the Artists at Work initiative, with help from the FreshGrass Foundation to fund a pilot program in Massachusetts. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was impressed and awarded Artists at Work a $ 3 million grant this summer to expand to Los Angeles, the Mississippi Delta region and the Borderlands region in the south. Where is.

Artists at Work will hire 42 artists across the country to work full time on artistic creation for one year. “They get paid for doing the great job they do in whatever their practice is,” Chanoff said. “But they’re also embedded in a local social impact initiative to bring their artistry and creative problem-solving to the mission of this particular social service.”

Kete partnered with Project Alianza in Holyoke, Massachusetts, a community support program that helps school-aged children cope with trauma through therapy, education and leadership training. She wrote songs with students about their lives. “Being a part of this process that helps them feel truly understood and seen,” she said, “it’s transformative and super powerful in and of itself.”

The initiative is looking for creative people in all disciplines, already hiring musicians, choreographers, textile designers and others. In Los Angeles, he will integrate artists at institutions ranging from the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy to the Japanese American National Museum to Chicxs Rockerxs South East Los Angeles, which helps expansive and transgender youth have their voices heard.

“Artists are actually workers – they’re not some kind of luxury item that’s the first thing,” Chanoff said. “They shouldn’t have to spend half their time begging for grants because there can’t be a thriving society without art. “


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