Arts and Culture

Coronavirus shutdowns deal heavy blow to the arts

Minnesota artists are finding themselves suddenly unemployed, with little financial relief in sight

Traffic in the theater district was light.
Traffic in the Minneapolis theater district is light Wednesday as the marquee message above Brave New Workshop offers a light message in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP

In the past week theater companies, museums and performance venues across Minnesota have been forced to shut their doors in order to comply with state and federal directives.

For many artists and cultural workers, the shutdowns have meant an immediate end to their income for the foreseeable future. In response to a social media query, one author said she estimates she’s lost tens of thousands of dollars due to canceled events at libraries and schools. A museum employee stated she's being furloughed at the end of the month. And many artists who work three or four different jobs in order to piece together a living testified they have had all of those jobs eliminated in a matter of days.

Laura Zabel is executive director of Springboard for the Arts, a nonprofit that supports artists with education and aid. Zabel says because artists are typically self-employed or contract workers, many don't qualify for unemployment insurance.

“So much of artists’ work is tied to events and public gatherings,” said Zabel. “Working in the schools, working in elder care facilities, working in community settings. So we really saw — at the end of last week — the bottom dropped out in a matter of hours.”

On Facebook one voice-over talent stated “I will be relying fully on savings, which will be fully expended in a few months.” A ceramic artist said she and her husband will soon have to start dipping into their IRA accounts — funds they had hoped not to tap for several more years.

According to Creative Minnesota, there are over 108,755 artists and creative workers in Minnesota.

Several arts nonprofits are putting together lists of places that might be able to provide financial help during this crisis. Springboard for the Arts already administers an emergency relief fund for artists. It provides $500 to artists going through a “career-threatening emergency.” Zabel says that usually means a health crisis. She says in the past maybe two people would apply for it in a given month.

"Last Thursday we put an additional $10,000 in that fund and opened it up to artists who were experiencing income loss because of the cancellations related to the pandemic,” said Zabel. “We're six days later and we have over 350 applications to that fund."

Zabel said Springboard has been working to raise additional money on, but so far it's not nearly enough to cover all the applications. She said she's particularly worried about artists who won't have enough money to pay their rent on April 1.

But things continue to change at a rapid rate. A bill introduced to the state Legislature on Monday, if passed, would put a moratorium on evictions. And many large cultural foundations have yet to weigh in on the crisis.

In the meantime, some artists are moving their work to Facebook: Accordionist Dan Newton recently streamed a lunchtime concert, Kairos Alive is offering daily 10 minute dance parties, and Brave New Workshop will be presenting comedy on Saturday nights. Many are asking for donations in exchange for the entertainment.

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