America's relationship with its artists is very fickle. Many people don't even think being an artist is a valid profession. Yet, these same people will binge-watch shows on Netflix, visit amusement parks, and share memes on social media. They have favorite playlists on Spotify and favorite comedians, and they will complain if a restaurant they're visiting is poorly decorated. A small handful of artists are paid exorbitantly for their work. Most of us, however, just get the crumbs that fall from the table, it feels like.
Many artists, especially those in live performance work (theatre, etc.), are out of a job for a while. Broadway is closed until at least after Memorial Day, but very likely later. That's not just me being out of a job; that's an entire economy in trouble. That's actors, technicians, ushers, producers (but they'll be okay), musicians, costumers, painters, electricians, carpenters out of work for over a year. Residually, because those artists are out of work, adjacent industries suffer: restaurants, rehearsal studios, retailers, tourist shops, food carts. Times Square is a dead zone.
Your knee-jerk reaction might be, “well, they should get a new job,” but consider a few things. First of all, you're still doing all those things in the first paragraph. Artists are required to make those things—all the shows and movies you watch, all the music you listen to, all the cartoons and comic books you read. Not to mention, all the clothes you wear and places you eat and shop were and are designed by artists. Second of all, many of us are highly skilled in our field—but woefully unskilled in others. Our usual second jobs (restaurant work, retail, temping) are much more scarce. And it's not like we have the money to go back to school. (Or that the schools are open.) Third of all, during normal times it was hard enough getting work and having people treat us appropriately (decent pay, good working conditions, etc.), but now it's nearly impossible. Artists are known for their resilience throughout history. This pandemic may be a true test of that resilience.
Many artists were already living on a knife's edge before the pandemic: gig to gig, barely making rent, no money for health care. Now we are appealing directly to anyone who will listen. We are begging for people to pay us for the art we are making for them. For you. That just shouldn't happen, don't you think?
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