.Creative Artists Are Particularly Vulnerable to the Disruptions Caused by COVID-19

Coming on the heels of the AB5 trauma, the coronavirus lockdown poses an extra economic threat.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all facets of life in California and the world. With school closures, work stoppages, and vast realms of the economy being shut down, artists and musicians are seeing large chunks of their livelihoods vanishing before their eyes. As they attempt to adjust to this new paradigm, many are seeing both the positives and negatives of this necessary change.

“As a working artist I’ve been affected more just by the prospect of upcoming gigs,” said Kev Choice of The Kev Choice Jazz Ensemble and Black London. “Only two specific cancellations, and one still up in the air. I may have to push back my album release, which was scheduled for April 10th. I have musicians in my band who’ve had whole tours postponed, weekly gigs, church gigs, private gigs, DJ gigs. One of the homies reported a minimum of $2,000 in loss of income over the month.

“We must get creative,” he added. “I’m looking into live streaming, dropping more content online, and other ways to generate income while we are social distancing. My only fear is that if this goes on too long it can destroy artists financially, as well as venues and employees who work there. On the other hand, I’m looking at it as an opportunity to practice more, work on music, and come up with creative ways to promote and monetize performances. It’s survival mode right now, for sure.”

Vicki Randle, formerly of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, currently with Skip The Needle and others, is seeing the same plummet as Choice, but also alternatives and ways to help her community.

“First it was the announcements that major festivals were postponing,” she said. “I ticked off in my head how many musicians I knew personally who were going to be affected,” she said. “My gig in Seattle was cancelled, understandably, as there was an infection there. Then, one by one, my local gigs started disappearing: Sweetwater in Mill Valley, the Lost Church in SF, Piedmont Piano in Oakland. Every day another one. I know this is true for my all my creative friends, not only musicians, but sound folks and other techs, to the people who staff all the venues that are dark this month. I recently wrote a post inviting my friends to post their Patreon, Bandcamp links and encouraged our audiences to contribute in ways that would help to assuage the financial hit they are going to be smacked by as a result of this virus.”

DJ Ren The Vinyl Archeologist, sees his micro concerns stemming from macro issues.

“I can see how this self-isolation can negatively impact many people who are living check to check or people who don’t have a savings,” he said. “They can get evicted and become homeless. And with the stock market crashing and pumping a more than a trillion into Wall Street, it’s like a repeat of 2008, where the people at the bottom and the most vulnerable get screwed out of their homes while Wall Street gets a bailout. Now is the time for real unity. I hope that people can get over their selfishness and realize that we are all in the same boat and we must share our resources and become more empathetic. We need a paradigm shift. Maybe this tumultuous time will be the turning point.”

Artist and entertainer Emily Butterfly also sees larger issues that are undergirded by what the virus has exposed.

“I feel it is important to start with AB5 (Assembly Bill 5), which is the bill that was signed into law last year that requires employers to treat freelancers and independent contractors as employees,” Butterfly said. “Now with the cancellations due to COVID-19, the loss of work has had a devastating effect on entertainers who were already challenged by the AB5 hit.”

“Now that the virus has reached pandemic status, I just had all my consistent income sources cancelled. I am doing all that I can to find creative ways to continue working, like offering Storytime house visits to the many thousands of Bay Area pre-schoolers-2nd graders who are out of school for the next three weeks. A good thing that is evolving out of this is there has been a lot of organizing and skill-sharing happening online amongst my creative peers. I engaged in a tutorial this morning teaching me about a platform to reach audiences remotely. It is a truly devastating time, and an inspired moment to shift how we work.”

D. Scot Miller
Managing Editor of The East Bay Express, Former Associate Editor of Oakland Magazine and Alameda Magazine, Columnist-In-Residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s Open Space, Advisory Board Member of Nocturnes Journal of Literary Arts, and regular contributor to several newspapers, websites and magazines. Miller is the founder of The Afrosurreal Arts Movement through his publication of The Afrosurreal Manifesto in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 20, 2009.
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