Being an artist during the coronavirus era feels like a luxury in some ways. You don’t need to worry about venturing outside because you’re probably not an essential employee. That means you can stay at home, focus on your work, and potentially receive a paycheck.
That setup means you also have a responsibility to care for those who are not in such a privileged spot.
Even if your income tanked because people bought toilet paper before your next masterpiece, there are still ambitious ways to give back to your community. Hans-Ulrich Obrist, who serves as the artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries, wants to create a massive public art project to support our cultural institutions.
Obrist Compares His Idea to the Great Depression Work Programs
The United States was in rough shape during the 1930s. With unemployment rates at 25% and higher in most communities, the government took the initiative to set up the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works of Art Project.
These programs went to communities to give artists a salary, allowing them to research projects and create work during the New Deal. It was the first commission that many of the workers experienced during that era. It was a scheme that produced over 15,000 pieces while employing over 3,700 people.
Obrist wants to modernize that idea for the UK because of COVID-19.
All museums and galleries are closed because of government orders to shut non-essential businesses. That means new commissions are halted, and most art fairs around the world are no longer planned. By reinvigorating the artistic community, the goal is to help the economy rebound when people must shelter to stay safe.
Plans Are in Place to Help Artists Already
Arts Council England released plans for an emergency response package to help artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It provides cash grants of up to £2,500 and millions more to companies outside of the national portfolio.
Efforts in other countries are also supporting artists directly or indirectly. The stimulus package passed by the United States provides up to $1,200 of direct cash support to individuals or $2,400 to married couples. Children get $500 each. That means a family of six could potentially receive $4,400 from the government – a substantial amount for many working artists.
If sales happen from the artwork produced by this investment, then the artist would get to keep the money. Even if a small business loan was taken out to cover these needs, most legislation allows a three- to six-month delay in the first payment requirement.
The last time a global financial emergency threatened the welfare of artists, names like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock got their start. Today’s situation might be scary and uncertain, but it is also an opportunity to discover the next generation of great artists.
All it takes is a little bit of funding and the political willpower to make an idea like this happen. We are currently living in a moment of history. Our grandchildren will visit museums to learn about this era at some time. The choices we make now will dictate the experience they get to enjoy.