With no date yet for reopening entertainment venues, out of work artists struggle to survive

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
COVID-19 has left out of work artists struggling
'I don't want folks to think we are dispensable': When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of concerts, book tours and gallery openings, artists were left without work and struggling to pay bills.

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (KGO) -- While many businesses are reopening, the state has not given a date yet on when concerts, theater performances and nightclubs will be allowed to resume.

The prolonged shutdown of the entertainment industry is causing extreme hardship on artists and musicians who have been out of work since mid-March.

"If we don't work, we don't get paid. A lot of companies have performance fees. Really, they don't pay you for the rehearsal, they pay you for the performance," said Mezzo-Soprano Deborah Martinez Rosenhaus.

This summer was going to be busy for Martinez Rosenhaus. She was scheduled to perform in six operas in a span of six months, including Frida by Opera Cultura in San Jose.

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"We want to be there. We want to be performing. It is heartbreaking to not be allowed to do that," said Martinez Rosenhaus.

With both productions canceled, she makes ends meet by teaching singing lessons online.

Martinez-Rosengaus is just one of many musicians, dancers, artists and performers who have not been able to work since the stay-at-home order. Entertainment venues won't be allowed to reopen until Phase 4, which is the last stage of reopening the economy, something that may not happen until next year.

"It means that I think I am going to find jobs that aren't music," said Martinez Rosenhaus with resignation. "I am very proud of the fact that I was making a life as a musician. It has halted all that forward momentum."

It is estimated there are about 2.4 million artists in the United States. A survey by Americans for the Arts found that 62% of artists are fully unemployed. That accounted for an estimated loss of income of $27,000 for each artist.

"Artists are uniquely impacted. They are dependent on the experience economy and all of that was canceled. There were no more concerts, no more book tours, no gallery openings. So all of their income streams went away," said Carolyn Ramo, executive director of Artadia, which offers grants to visual artists.

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Artadia is currently offering grants to artists based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The non-profit is one of several arts organizations that have been supporting Artist Relief, a nationwide effort to provide financial support for out-of-work artists.

Artist Relief has raised $13 million dollars since April 8. It is giving out 1,000 grants worth $5,000 each week to struggling artists.

"We are helping artists in many kinds of disciplines. It could be a poet, a writer, a choreographer, a dancer, a performing artist, a ballerina," said Ramo.

At first, the aid was to help these artist pay their rent.

"Now we are seeing a whole new wave of need that is even more dire. Those who don't have enough money to eat. Those who really don't understand how they are going to pay their medical bills," said Ramo.

In the Bay Area, the Safety Net Fund has raised more than $500,000. It is distributing $500 monthly grants to artists to help them pay bills. Some production companies are doing their own fundraising.

In San Jose, Opera Cultura had to cancel its production of Frida. It asked the performers to record a song that was shared with donors. With matching funds, the effort raised more than $5,000 that will be distributed to artists.

"Some donations have been for $500, some have been $25," said Hector Armienta, artistic director of Opera Cultura. "I am very gratified and grateful for some of our current donors to contribute more, as well as new donors."

Opera Cultura relies on only 15% of its revenue from ticket sales, so it is in a good position to survive the cancellation of performances. Armienta is already working on Mi Camino, a production that is not scheduled to open until May 2021.

Other production companies are trying similar fundraisers. The Livermore Valley Opera is posting past performances each Friday hoping to raise $20,000 by the end of the month.

"The arts play a critical role in the lives of many. They tell the stories of our community. They inspire us. I don't want folks to think we are indispensable," said Armienta.

For more information on organizations donating funds to artists, visit the Artist Relief website and the Safety Net Fund.

Intersection for the Arts also compiled a list of organizations providing financial aid.