COVID-19 continues taking a toll on the sick and the well, including the community’s artists, actors and musicians.
A peek at what they’re doing shows challenge and innovation.
“Fortunately, I haven’t heard of any artists around who have the virus and I sure hope it stays that way,” said Melissa Macker, executive director of The 567 Center, a First Street gallery that also offers drawing, painting, pottery and other classes.
“The threat, hardships and social distancing are overwhelming day-to-day and affect our livelihood just like they do for everyone else.”
Macker said the gallery and onsite classes are closed as per government instruction. She said as of a week ago, the gallery had easily lost $3,000 mainly in classes. But that only begins to scratch the surface. She said March at the gallery always features an annual Macon-Bibb County student art show that never generates sales. On the other hand, April, with its now-canceled Cherry Blossom Festival is by far the gallery’s biggest sales month with most sales always on First Fridays – also canceled.
“So we and individual artists have taken a big, big hit,” she said. “A lot of artists count on March and what they sell at Cherry Blossom shows and markets equals about as much as they sell all the rest of the year. It’s tough.”
Macker said she spent the last several weeks filling out impact surveys for foundations and arts organizations such as the national impact survey for artists, creatives and organizations the Macon Arts Alliance has linked at www.maconartsalliance.org/covid-19.
But Macker and other artists are doing more than losing money. They are creative people, after all, and are finding ways to reach audiences, though diminished, and be creative in the crisis.
“We decided to do more with the virtual gallery we’ve always had online but go a step further and put classes online, too,” she said. “There are great teaching and classroom platforms but we decided to keep it simple and use Facebook. We wanted a way to keep bringing art into people’s lives and help them be creative, maybe even brighten their self-isolation.”
Macker said there are two acrylic painting classes going and supply kits – canvas, brushes and paints – are available for curbside pickup.”
Painter Daniel Montoute is using his Facebook page to show pieces he’s working on. He said his first plan was to complete a painting a day but then decided he needed to slow down. In one comment, he said even at the slower pace producing so much work was giving him an idea of what masters of old meant when they said it took years for them to “find themselves” as artists.
Area musicians are going online, too, following the lead of national acts who are not on the road again but off tour and stuck at home.
As part of the Facebook-based Virtual Cherry Blossom Experience, the Cherry Blossom Festival committee, NewTown Macon and Visit Macon created a virtual concert series now underway that features locally related singer-songwriter-performers.
“We wanted people to be safe but we wanted ways they could still enjoy elements of the festival,” said Valerie Bradley Visit Macon’s vice president of marketing. “The Virtual Cherry Blossom Experience at www.maconga.org and on Facebook came about from Wesleyan College’s idea of a cherry blossom webcam. We added ideas to encourage shopping and supporting others and then wondered, ‘Why not virtual concerts?’”
Concerts are each night at 7 p.m. and performers are live from their homes.
“I did mine from my music room at home,” said singer-songwriter-guitarist Blane Dunnam. “I just used my phone and linked it to the virtual festival page. Oddly enough, it was my second virtual concert. A few days before I did one for the local Quarantine Concert Series on Facebook created by Daniel Graves and Brandon Lawler. It’s ongoing. Both it and the Cherry Blossom shows can be seen live then you can watch the videos later as well. It gives you exposure over time to a lot of people, potentially people all over the world.”
Dunnam said in addition to the reach there’s an odd intimacy.
“It’s still new to me and awkward,” he said. “You don’t get the same response as live but you learn to read the comments as much as you can and that’s fun.”
Dunnam said an interesting moment came when he sang an original love song written for his wife.
“She actually wrote a comment something like, ‘You must really like me,’” he said. “I laughed and responded something like, ‘Yeah, I do.’ She was watching from the next room.”
Dunnam plays mostly in-state on weekends, works landscaping during the week, and said tips from the online tip jar rivaled his live hourly average. The Cherry Blossom Festival also paid him for his performance.
The final Cherry Blossom virtual concert is Sunday and features Macon-native Molly Stevens who now splits her time between Nashville and Raleigh, N.C.
She’s been a traveling performer for 10 years.
“These times are tough and I especially think about friends in Nashville who aren’t just dealing with the coronavirus but were hit by a tornado just before it all really got going,” she said in a telephone interview from Raleigh. “Some there and elsewhere are in desperate situations but it’s not just about money. We all need money but because of canceled tours, there’s also an emotional drain from not having an outlet to perform and share your work. Being out there really fuels my fire. Honestly, the first week of this I was really in a funk. I knew for at least a month there’d be nothing going on but then I wondered, ‘What can I do for others? What can I give from the comfort of my own home?”
Stevens, who said she’s done online concerts before, said she came up with the idea of doing online songwriting sessions-classes with people.
“I was just thinking for kids then it grew to adults,” she said. “I just finished working on a song with a guy from New York who was really depressed. But we saw it through and created an amazing song together. It helped. It helped us both.”
Stevens said she deeply feels the tragedy all around but she sees a silver lining.
“There’s always a silver lining,” she said. “One thing music does is connect us and no disease is going to stop us from that. At least in all this we’re thinking of new ways to share our gifts with one another. We’ve got to keep that up and help each other through in our own small way.”