| President of Ringling College of Art and Design
In last month’s article, I shared my belief that creativity is the path that will lead us through this pandemic. In the coming months, I will highlight areas of life and the economy in which creativity is not only keeping us going, but also driving new ideas and new ways of doing things that may well remain as we emerge from this crisis.
As Clay Lord, vice president of Americans for the Arts, has said, “We know that there can be no recovery without creativity. On the other side of all of this, we cannot simply end up with the systems and structures that we had before.”
Nationally, arts and culture is an integral part of our society, adding $877 billion to the annual economy, with 5.1 million American workers. The arts account for 4.5 percent of the annual GDP. As with so many other aspects of our lives, COVID-19 has deeply impacted the creative arts.
According to a study done by USA Today, from April to July 2020, about 2.7 million jobs and $150 billion in revenue were already lost in this sector. Of course, the impact of the arts and culture to the Sarasota community is especially significant.
According to an American for the Arts study commissioned by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the nonprofit arts and cultural community in Sarasota generate $295 million in total economic activity and support 7,445 full-time equivalent jobs. Plus, the plethora of arts and culture in this community separates Sarasota from other Florida beach towns.
As brutal as the national numbers listed above are, the real losses are being felt by the communities in which individuals live. More than 100,0000 community theaters, art galleries, music venues, performance spaces and arts organizations have already closed their doors.
The lights of Broadway are still dark and will remain so until 2021. The Metropolitan Opera in New York recently canceled its entire 2020-21 season, keeping its stages dark until next September. Most movie theaters remain closed, while television viewers are being subjected to a steady dose of reruns.
Some galleries and museums have reopened, though with comprehensive new health and safety protocols in place. Locally, most of the performing arts groups have canceled their seasons, at least through the end of this year.
Artists, as they are known to do, have found ways to adapt. Most are swapping physical experiences for virtual ones. According to Barbara Stcherbatcheff for weforum.org, “Many artists have responded to this challenge with the kind of ingenuity you would expect from highly creative minds.”
For example, museums and galleries, including Ringling College of Art and Design’s Sarasota Museum of Art and the Galleries at Ringling College, have transitioned from in-person exhibits to virtual ones. The result of this innovation has been continued engagement with their members and guests, and expanded access to those who previously would not otherwise have been able to participate in the art and cultural offerings these institutions provide.
These organizations are thinking creatively to deliver in-person experiences in a post-COVID world, considering tools like timed ticketing to help keep guests healthy. Even as plans for a return to normalcy begin, the unexpected benefits from the necessary transition to virtual exhibits and experiences mean that they are very likely here to stay.
Musicians have also been redefining live performance to stay connected to their art and their fans. The musicians of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra have used technology to record a virtual rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from their homes.
“We’re adjusting to a new reality and we’ll have to find solutions in order to support each other,” the musicians said in their video, which received more than 2 million views in less than two weeks.
Artists and bands have been live-streaming shows, so many, in fact, that the U.S. entertainment site, Billboard, has compiled a list “to share some musical joy during these trying times.”
Since the pandemic began, the list of artists moving to the virtual world has been long and varied, including everything from Broadway favorites such as “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera” to performers such as Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, Josh Groban and many more.
Artists already have made strides to reimagine how they deliver, and how we, as patrons, experience, arts and cultural events. Their creativity has expanded access to art in ways that we would not have considered a year ago.
Beyond keeping us connected, these new ways of bringing performance and art to the world have made it possible for so many more people to feel the joy and the inspiration that come with experiencing art. Maintaining, and even building upon, these creativity-fueled innovations that have expanded accessibility to art will benefit not only artists and arts organizations, but also society at-large.
You don’t often hear a politician talk about the arts, but John Killacky, legislator in the Vermont House of Representatives with a long career in arts administration, put this COVID-era in perspective.
“We are in this liminal moment imagining a post-pandemic art world. The opportunity in this crisis will be lost, if, in hindsight, we simply rush to put everything back together the way it was.”
Larry R. Thompson is president of Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design.