The coronavirus pandemic has left its mark over the last couple weeks, affecting many workers and businesses across the community. One area feeling the effects in a big way is the local arts community, as artists are looking for creative ways to make up for what they’re losing.
During a recent interview with 97.9 The Hill’s Aaron Keck, Director of the Orange County Arts Commission Katie Murray discussed how the arts community is trying to get through this current crisis, which she referred to as a big mess.
The Commission is a government agency that provides funding and support for a broad range of arts programs.
With places like the ArtsCenter in Carrboro and PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill forced to cancel their programs, classes and performances, it leaves those employees without jobs.
Murray said many of these staff members are contract workers or only work part-time. This prevents them from qualifying for unemployment benefits. In addition, anybody whose primary job is that of an artist—including dancers, actors and musicians–is out of a job as well.
She referenced the cancellation of the upcoming production of Julius Caesar at PlayMakers when providing a scope of just how many lives have been affected by what’s going on within the arts world.
“Julius Caesar cannot go on right now,” Murray said. “And so, you’ve got the lighting crew. You’ve got obviously the actors, but you’ve got the staff of Playmakers. I think most of the ushers are probably students, but you know there are paid bartenders—there are so many people that are employed by that one production. And then not to mention the people, the parking attendant in the parking lot. And even the restaurants.”
There’s a large ripple effect that trickles down the line when it comes to the amount of jobs impacted.
Because the Arts Commission is not technically a non-profit organization, it did not have a mechanism in place to collect donations for these folks in a traditional sense. As a result, Murray started a personal GoFundMe page to gather donations for both individual artists and businesses that have been affected—a page that’s garnered over $4,500 in donations so far.
She said an application process will soon be set up on the commission’s website too, with 100 percent of the donations going directly back to the arts community.
“We are a county entity so as quickly as possible sometimes means a little bit longer than other organizations,” Murray said. “But, you know, everybody with the county that I’ve talked to about this is great. And they realize the need is there. So, we’re all trying to figure out how to be nimble.”
Murray also stressed how a time like this reinforces how much we, as a society, need the arts. Stuck at home in quarantine situations, many people have turned to Netflix, listening to music, reading books or even creating art of their own to pass the time. She said the same people making it possible to have those outlets are the same ones in need of help now. But that still hasn’t stopped artists from doing their best to come up with new ways to provide the community with entertainment.
“All these museums are launching these free virtual tours,” Murray said. “But a lot of artists are coming up with ways of doing digital concerts and asking for an “admission fee” maybe through a contribution to their [fund of choice]. I think all of those things, people are trying to get creative with how to supplement their income right now. And I think that we need to support that.”
To learn more about the Orange County Arts Support Fund, visit the Orange County Arts Commission’s website.