Artists were significantly impacted

When COVID swept the globe, many industries were swiftly shut down. This included many of those in the arts. A study by Brookings Institution found between April and July of this year about 2.7 million jobs and more than $150 billion in sales of goods and services for creative industries nationwide were lost. As most artists don’t have large savings to keep them afloat during these troubled times, this has led to financial struggles for some. 

However, in the face of adversity, many artists are rising to meet the challenge. Some artists found themselves thriving under quarantine conditions, with a lack of outside distractions allowing them more space to be creative. According to artist Gary Taxali, staying in and getting lost in making art is pure bliss. In Athens, the art scene has been described as “boiling because the city itself is boiling and changing,” according to art dealer Andreas Melas. While some artists have been unable to work due to the uncertainty of the times, others have been able to continue making art, tapping in the uncommon and sometimes dark and uncomfortable feelings and atmospheres related to COVID, and in doing so bringing the art community together across the globe. In addition, galleries have taken to social media to help artists sell their work. 

How artists are handling working in pandemic conditions

For those in the arts who rely on exhibitions to sell their work, this has been a major blow. However, despite the losses experienced, artists have already begun shifting to adapt to their new normal. For those who worked in-person delivering classes and workshops, moving to online platforms to continue instruction has proven to be effective.

In order to sustain her business and because she noticed her students were feeling isolated and afraid, visual artist Helen Klebesadel established the Cabin Fever Creative Community group on Facebook to share the work people have been creating in their homes or where they are based. The pandemic has also led her to pursue a passion project long on the backburner. “I will use this time to finally finish setting up an online watercolor workshop that I have been thinking about for five years,” she added.

Other artists have begun taking advantage of free social media platforms to share their work, increasing their communications with clients via newsletters, as well as offering more classes, which give the opportunity for admirers of their work to learn more about them and their work. Terrill Welch is one such artist. She says when COVID struck she “immediately offered 200 seats free in my introductory Independent Study Skill Building Masterclass in oil painting.” 

Creativity in lockdown

What do you do when your livelihood depends upon drawing inspiration from the world around you? This past spring, many artists were forced to explore a rapidly changing reality. Some artists have taken the opportunity to organize their studios, to reset, or to focus on introspection to help create new pieces. Instead of shying away from the chaos and anxiety he felt swirling around him, Kenyan artist Anthony Muisyo embraced these feelings. Anthony says, “This has been a period of self-reflection -- to try and understand what kind of world I'd like to live in, to deeply value and treasure the already beautiful and meaningful connections I have managed to build with people I care for and finally, to always hope.”

For artists such as Camilo Hunica, the social isolation was harder to bear. Although he works alone on his art, he draws inspiration from those around him. Lockdown forced him to spend more time connecting with his loved ones via social media, which he says has been reflected in his art. Other artists are using this time to think about more existential concepts, such as Sir Antony Gormley’s musing: “We have to ask ourselves: What do we care about? What do we value? What do we love?" This lockdown has also led artists to share more intimate aspects of their lives with their followers, such as street artist Banksy sharing stenciled work from inside his bathroom and Damien Hirst sharing his famous butterfly wings as downloads to celebrate National Health Service (NHS) workers

Art continues to adapt

Despite the darkness, art continues to flourish. Across the globe, street artists are bringing their vibrant, joyous designs to life inspired by the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of living in a pandemic. An homage to NHS workers created by Banksy called “Game Changer” currently hangs in Southampton Hospital, waiting to be auctioned with the proceeds going to benefit the NHS. Other artists have used the current political climate to fuel their art, making art as political commentary. Artists even took aim at the supply hoarding that happened in the early days of the pandemic, reminding people there was no need to panic-purchase paper products.

In other areas, artists used their art to brighten the spirits of those in their neighborhoods, and as a reflection of the resiliency of the human spirit. When artist Mario Mena saw first-hand the significant impact COVID was having on his neighborhood, he knew he had to do something, but wasn’t sure how he could contribute. After brainstorming with some friends, Mena spent weeks painting a mural on an abandoned building near his home. Not only did Mena collaborate with a group of artists friends to accomplish this monumental task, they also put together art kits for the neighborhood youth. Mena says, “This is my way of giving back to a place that has given me and my family so much. I love this city. This is my home.”

In an effort to continue bringing art to people, artists have continued to get creative while embracing old ideas. For example, a small group of artists held their own private backyard showing for their works. According to Sasha French of Birdgirl Arts, “We’re like an unofficial arts collective, it’s a place to come and be social and ask questions and feel good.”

In Oklahoma, artist Nicole Poole has put together a set of socially-distant, artistically creative experiences for those around her. Most recently, she developed the opportunity for performers to have a few minutes on the stage to express themselves by whatever medium felt best. Since people can’t attend live performances in larger groups, this small, intimate gathering seeks to help fill that void. Poole says, “There's an immediacy and an intimacy of live performance that is just important to our culture. It's hard-wired in our DNA — and we can't have that right now. And performing artists are hit really hard, with gigs, classes, all of it, canceled."

In spite of the hardships thrown their way by the coronavirus, artists are showing tenacity of spirit, the audacity of hope, and a willingness to adapt to an ever-changing world. Many have used this time to reflect, to continue to create art, and to broaden their audiences by seeking new ways to share. As Silvia López Chavez told Northeastern University, “adapting during tough times is nothing new for an artist.” With creativity and problem-solving skills, artists are providing people much-needed hope, joy, and release during the pandemic!