Third Friday art walks typically draw a decent crowd to downtown Phoenix, but most creative spaces made the decision not to open this month due to concerns about the coronavirus. This could foreshadow what could be an extended period of economic hardship for metro Phoenix artists.
“This is going to impact us individually and collectively,” says artist Michael Pierre Price, a member of the Five15 Arts collective based on Grand Avenue. “We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this and absorb how long it could last,” he says.
Like several art spaces, they’re shifting into high gear with online and social media offerings in the hopes of maintaining their connection to the city’s art lovers even as community members are laser-focused on staying healthy and keeping their jobs.
Creatives already are taking an economic hit, according to poet Joy Young (who uses the personal pronoun "they"). Young relies on freelance work for about half their income, but they’ve had a rash of cancellations and proposed projects are in limbo now that COVID-19 has taken hold.
Even so, they’re grateful to have a part-time job that hasn’t been affected by the health crisis. “So many people are in harder situations than me," Young says. “I know that there are people in the arts community who will be okay, and there are others who won’t.”
Artists with teaching jobs, including Dain Quentin Gore, are quickly adapting to an online learning environment. But those jobs are still there. Other creatives may face a different scenario. “I’ve seen a bunch of people express concern about not being able to pay their rent,” he says.
Young is already thinking about ways community members can help struggling artists. “People who have artists in their network should reach out to them,” Young says. “People can buy artists’ work, hire artists for projects, or give money directly to artists.”
They’re hoping people are especially supportive of marginalized artists, such as artists of color and those who don’t have generational wealth.
It’s important to help art venues, too. “Reach out to the spaces you utilize because you want them to be there in the future,” Young adds. “If you want to see things keep happening, you have to support them moving forward.”
Of course, not everyone will be in a position to help arts organizations just now — especially if they’re dealing with health, housing, or job crises.
But Joseph Benesh, who heads an arts advocacy group called Arizona Citizens for the Arts, says there’s another way people can help if their circumstances allow. “You can take the money you save by not going out and donate it to your favorite arts group,” he says.
JB Snyder, an artist whose bright murals dot the downtown landscape, is thinking about the big picture. “Arts play a huge role in making our city special, and it’s a good time to give back to those individuals who put in a lot of hard work, who are most likely now out of work indefinitely,” he says. “A lot of us are uninsured, and many of us don’t have a lot to fall back on.”
Specific needs will become clearer over time. A national organization called CERF+ is hoping to elucidate those needs by doing a nationwide survey of studio artists. Arizona artists can complete online.
Artlink is working to help artists affected by COVID-19 as well. Arizona artists can apply now for Emergency Artist Fund grants of up to $500, which are designed to help artists experiencing income loss.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Alliance of Nonprofits is gearing up for Arizona Gives Day on April 7. There’s a new twist this year, created in response to COVID-19 concerns. People can donate to a Nonprofit Emergency Relief Fund, which will equally split the money raised between every nonprofit that participates in the program. That includes several art groups, according to CEO Kristen Merrifield.
Still, plenty of creatives are hustling on their own. “There are some arts organizations around town that try to serve as middlemen,” says James B. Hunt, an artist best known for leaving surreal artworks for people to hunt for around town periodically. “I can’t for the life of me see why people need them.”
Hunt believes that the DIY mentality will help artists make things happen, even when resources are scarce. “People are still down to support artists, so we just have to find new ways to do our thing.” Hunt spent the weekend riding his bike around town, sharing copies of a new zine while following social distancing guidelines.
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Rob Gentile thought he’d be showing works by San Francisco artist Marc Bode at Grand ArtHaus on Third Friday. Instead, the gallery joined the ranks of art venues temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Gentile manages the venue, where he’s one of seven artists with studio space.
“If this drags on for months, I have a feeling it will impact a lot of our artists because nobody will be buying art,” says Gentile. “If artists can’t pay their rent,” he says, “we’ll have to close our doors.” For Gentile, the virus is starting to feel like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
“If artists leave Grand Avenue because they can’t pay rent, we could see the big developers move in,” he says.
It’s too soon to know how it will all play out. For now, people are still adjusting to social distance measures that make gatherings like Third Friday untenable. “Artists’ needs may change over time,” Young says. “We all need to be there to support each other.”