TRENDS Podcast: Art and Culture During COVID-19 – An Industry Decimated by the Pandemic

The TRENDS podcast is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of Boulder County and KGNU. It dives deep into the community’s most pressing issues and explores the changes happening throughout Boulder County through the experiences of community members, especially those often rendered invisible by commercial media, to shed light on community challenges, solutions, and pathways forward for the county and the country.

Listen to the COVID-19 and the arts TRENDS podcast episode below:

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Creative industries represent about 5% of Boulder County’s total employment. There has been a growth in creative jobs in the past decade and the city of Boulder has increased funding for the arts. Many are also calling for increasing diversity in arts and culture in the area, both for artists and for audiences. Many artists themselves often cannot afford to live in Boulder and this is especially true for artists of color. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the focus completely.

A report commissioned by Colorado Creative Industries that looked at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the music industry showed the Live Events sector will lose an estimated $163 million in the four-month period between April and July 2020.

Matt Chasansky, Manager of the City of Boulder Office of Art + Culture, says the report findings were stark.

“In the first four months of the pandemic, (due to) the restrictions and the associated recession, the number of jobs in the creative industries and creative occupations in those four months fell by the amount that it had created in the past 10 years, we lost that many jobs and that the creative industries have a reduction in their earnings by about $2.6 billion.”

The closure of venues shut down the arts industry overnight and has meant artists are getting creative with connecting with their audiences. Many are using digital platforms and others are finding ways to engage with audiences outdoors.

Maren Waldman, a dancer, educator, and artist, recently taught a healing movement event for the OSMP and the Arts Program

The City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Department has an art program that offers various art-focused hikes and outdoor programs with guest artists working in various media. Although this program has existed for nearly a decade, in the time of COVID-19 it is especially important.

Maren Waldman, a professional dancer, was invited to teach healing movement through the OSMP and the Arts Program. She says this program is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just don’t think it’s an accident that by being with nature and moving our bodies and connecting that is one way to process grief, and if anything is happening alongside this pandemic, it’s grief. And we need ways to speak with each other beyond facts and scientific knowledge alongside that. So art and, and getting outside… we live in a place where we have access to an amazing natural world, so we need to do that.”

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent anti-racism actions taking place around the country are also impacting the arts community locally.

Associate Chair of Dance at CU Boulder, Helanius J Wilkins, at a Boulder Arts Outdoors event

Helanius J Wilkins, Associate Chair of Dance at CU Boulder describes it as a double pandemic.

“Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic racism and police brutality pandemic. I have been walking every day for 12 miles as a farmer, personal protest and writing a lot and keeping art really close.”

Local arts organizations are also working on reflecting the activism that is happening in society. The Dairy Arts Center is participating in what’s being called “artivism” by displaying a mural on its outside wall recently created by artist Thomas Evans, professionally known as Detour. Detour and artist Hiero Veiga started the Spray Their Name campaign to create public art commemorating people murdered by the police — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain.

“We really just started doing one mural and that mural was a George Floyd and it was for the protest and it was a way of using street art to really just talk about what was happening around us. And then it ventured into another mural and another mural and another street art mural,” said Evans.

Spray Their Name artist Hiero Viga works on a mural outside the Dairy Art Center

While the anti-racism message of the art is sparking an important conversation in Boulder, other conversations have been happening on the lack of diversity among the arts themselves.

While most people would agree that the arts should be for everyone, for people of color, those in lower income brackets and those who are already marginalized, the arts have not always felt welcoming.  In recent years there has been a huge effort to diversify arts and culture in Boulder County. Multicultural festivals seek to engage a wider audience and many organizations are working to recruit more diverse artists.

Santiago Gutierrez Herrera, an artist in residence with Boulder Opera says traditionally opera has not been very diverse.

“If you go to music school… you don’t get to sing that much in Spanish because the whole curriculum is all based around opera. So you do a lot of singing in Italian and in French and in German and English, but those, aren’t the only languages that opera has… I mean, music is around everywhere.”

Boulder Opera received a National Endowment for the Arts program focused on including more Latinx voices. In addition to embracing diversity, Boulder Opera is also working hard to keep a connection with their audience through the COVID-19 pandemic. They are organizing a series of free Opera in the Park concerts in August.

In 2015 Boulder City Council voted to adopt the Community Cultural Plan. The multi-year plan includes a commitment to support artists and creative professionals and now with so many struggling, that support is needed more than ever.

In the Trends Podcast, we explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the arts industry. In this panel discussion, titled Supporting the Arts with an Equity Focus, our guests Dianela Acosta, founder of Boulder Opera; Helanius Wilkins, Associate Chair of Dance at the University of Colorado; John March musician and independent producer and Matthew Chasansky, Manager, Office of Arts & Culture for the city of Boulder discuss specific challenges experienced by the creative industries due to the pandemic and what tangible things can be done to support the arts going forward with an equity lens.


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