Rodger French plays accordion in The Theatrical Outfit’s production of Indecent, March 2020. Photo Credit: Jake Pearce Photography.
February 2022 | Hunter Wes
The decision to pursue a career in the arts is always fraught, with the fears of the starving artist trope haunting the dreams of every burgeoning creative. Over the past two years these fears were crystallized as the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters, museums, and galleries — drastically reducing employment opportunities for artists. As with many Americans, artists struggled with food and housing insecurity as a result of lost income. At its peak, 63% of artists experienced unemployment and 95% lost some degree of creative income. BIPOC artists were disproportionately impacted with 69% reporting unemployment when compared to white artists (60%).
Creating in the face of the unimaginable takes courage, heart, and vulnerability. In response to the pandemic artists adapted, finding new ways of practicing and engaging with audiences hungry for the hope that only art can provide.
In their own words, artists who are Alternate ROOTS members discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic challenged and changed their practices (responses have been edited):
“I struggled with a lot of health problems, but also dove more deeply into the heart of what I wanted to do as an artist. Pain and art don’t always go hand-in-hand, but for me in the pandemic, I found my artistic voice in the midst of abject terror.” ~ Ariel Baska, Filmmaker
Still from Our First Priority (2021) written and directed by Ariel Baska. Photo L-R: Benjamin Frankenberg, Jamie Kirsten Howard, and Violet Gotcher. Photo by Trent Watts.
“In two days in March 2020 all our band bookings were either cancelled or ‘put on hold until further notice’. Notice rarely came, so we lost a lot of income and even worse, we lost many opportunities to play. The pandemic put Big Tiki & the MaiTais back financially and stunted our public growth by stopping our momentum to fame.” ~ Toni LaBanana Shifalo, Musician
“I questioned how I was using my time. I kept most of my writing and spoken word goals and danced in a few performances, but it took more mental bargaining. I felt less satisfaction and attended too many professional webinars or none at all. My purpose has shifted; It’s not clear yet.” ~ Lynn Hesse, Multidisciplinary Performance Artist
“After almost eight years of living and working overseas, I returned to the States to work in a production of “Indecent” at the Theatrical Outfit in the ATL. This was in March 2020, so after a quite successful opening and a short, but brief run, the show was (correctly) closed due to Covid. I realized that this was very possibly my last shot at musical theatre. As a 74 year-old accordionist, such opportunities are rare in the best of times.” ~ Rodger French, Musician
“The pandemic really turned my world around, in both negative and positive ways. Because of travel limitations and health issues, my work as a resident artist in communities around the world came to a halt. I was forced to take inventory of my life – what I have been doing and what I want and need to do in the future.” ~ Sonia Osio, Multidisciplinary Performance Artist
“It changed it a lot! I haven’t been able to do as much in person auditioning or workshops–or even just getting together to try stuff, and it’s been a lot harder to meet people in my field. I do feel that I’ve strengthened some relationships with other artists through helping each other navigate this time, but in general I feel more isolated and less sure of how to build artistic relationships and find new collaborations.” ~ Anonymous, Actor
“I think I’m still trying to understand all of the ways the pandemic has changed my artistic practice. At a time when I had a lot of energy and momentum for multiple international collaborative projects, the pandemic ground all travel to a halt, and almost 2 years in I am grieving those losses and wondering if they can be rekindled.” ~ Nicole Garneau, Artist
“My creative dreams and goals exploded. I was given a chance to focus and listen to myself, my ancestral guides, and my surroundings like never before. My work became clear. I’ve always known it as prayer, but by focusing on my own body issues the subject to invoke that prayer, my work went into another dimension.” ~ Charmaine Minniefield, Visual Artist
“I had gotten a grant from ROOTS in the beforetimes to work with young folx who were unhoused (many of whom were queer & trans). When the pandemic hit, we found ourselves reeling with how to still do the project. Ultimately, I went from being a coach of live, personal storytelling to a bit of an amateur film director.” ~ Shannon M. Turner, Founder/Creative Director of StoryMuse, Storyteller and Story Coach
“The pandemic allowed me to pivot and become an online teaching artist via Zoom. What I learned was that I could have an impact and share my creativity virtually.” ~ Carolyn Renée, Multidisciplinary Teaching & Healing Artist
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted my artistic practice in a couple of ways. First, it prevented me from expanding my in-person activities such as teaching, choreographing and community residencies. However, the positive impact was the pivot to the virtual realm with an ongoing series of virtual workshops that were developed for the aging community and for those with mobility challenges.” ~D. Patton White, Movement-based Artist
“The pandemic in all of its complexities offered the world a moment to stop and sit with itself. As a creative,I stopped. I found the time and need to allow my body to cease fire. I strengthened much needed boundaries on demands of my time and energy. Being fully present with myself during that time was a gift. It has actually fueled my artistic energy and sharpened the focus of my social arts practice…to uplift an awareness with action on radical self-care.” ~ Yvette Angelique, Poet and Storyologist
Yvette Angelique stands in front of her poem “A Reckoning Between Shadow and Shine” installed outside the Yellow House Art Gallery in Jacksonville, FL, December 2020. Photo by Kinney Hyater-Adams.
“It made me realize how important being home and near family and resting is to my practice. It caused me to be firm in my boundaries and reject demands for work I had been doing that didn’t serve me or honor my family life.” ~ Ashley Minner, Community-based Visual Artist
These artist reflections provide greater insight into the microcosmic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Coping with the new realities of pandemic life, Alternate ROOTS members were driven to reevaluate their priorities and expectations, while dealing with lost opportunities and income. Time will continue to reveal how deeply these past two years of isolation and uncertainty have impacted artistic practice and expression.
Photo Credit – Hunter Wes
Author Bio: Hunter Wes is an author and artist intrigued by the complexities of human life.