By Greg Gallop, Sr. Program Officer, Community Vibrancy
Art, whether literary or digital, visual or performing, inspires us to reflect on life. Whether we create our own or experience another’s, art opens our minds to different perspectives on the world and even ourselves. It transcends culture, religion, and even race, providing a space for unique expression while demonstrating that we are all truly the same—human.
The Effect of COVID-19 on the Arts
At a time when we need these moments more than ever, the arts world has endured a very unusual year. COVID-19’s impact on social events is most prominent. The places we visit for visual and performing arts, like the theatre and museums, were among the hardest hit when the pandemic struck. With no attendance at venues like the Symphony, the Ballet, and the many museums around the city, arts organizations saw a dramatic decrease in revenue.
If feasible, most arts and education-centered nonprofits turned to an online format as school-based programs were forced to pivot to reach young learners. Many museums have shifted to provide virtual and socially distanced exhibits for adults to enjoy as well.
Philanthropic Support of the Arts: Why Now
Even as Phase 3 began in Virginia and businesses started to re-open, arts organizations have continued to feel the effects of months without generating substantial revenue. As customers begin supporting their favorite arts institutions again, it is almost certain that in-person attendance will not return to “normal” anytime soon.
It is important that funders and individual donors recognize just how valuable the arts are to our everyday lives – not just for entertainment, but for our peace of mind. By continuing to support arts organizations, even in these times, we can keep their doors open while fostering their innovative endeavors to reach us in our homes. Funding in the form of general operating dollars is best at this time, as it allows nonprofits to address their most pressing needs.
The Community Foundation for a greater Richmond saw an increase in funding arts organizations this year, and we did it primarily with general operating support. As a major funder in the region, we recognize our support shouldn’t be solely based on programming, particularly this year, but rather on supporting those organizations that have been a pillar in our community in their time of need.
Perspectives from the Arts & Culture Sector:
What’s one thing your organization has done to continue serving the community during the pandemic?
Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA): One of the core objectives of BHMVA is to be a safe place for the community to have open and honest conversations that will hopefully lead to better understanding and a better future for us all. Through our Community Conversations, we listen to learn.
During the three months that BHMVA was closed due to COVID-19, we created a virtual community conversation series titled Voices for Change that explores social justice by sharing diverse perspectives. Each segment includes members of the community who reveal their personal feelings and ideas on various topics while viewers engage by responding to poll questions. In previously broadcasted segments we covered the topic of protest, listened to our youth, explored racial inequities, addressed the idea of subliminal consent, and encouraged viewers to think about their responsibility in addressing social justice issues. We hope these programs serve as a catalyst for change—change in thought, change in behaviors, change in actions, change in systems.
Oakwood Arts: Since the beginning of lockdown in March, Oakwood Arts has made it an organizational priority to do whatever we could to help minimize the trauma and social isolation local kids might be experiencing, especially those from challenging backgrounds or those who were at risk of falling behind academically. A highlight for us was the Creativity Kits project we began in March, through which we created 52, curriculum-based art prompts and delivered over 4,500 individual art kits to East End elementary, middle, and high school students. Our priority to serve this community of kids and parents continues to guide our current initiatives, which include a new tutoring program and the creation of an outdoor learning park at our East End home at 3511 P Street that will feature socially-distanced tables, free WiFi, and lending libraries stocked with school and art supplies.
Richmond Performing Arts Alliance (RPAA): RPAA continues to focus on two main things during the pandemic: 1) how we can support local artists and arts organizations; and 2) how we can create a sense of unity for the community and be a catalyst for connecting everyone through the arts to enhance emotional well-being.
In the spring, very soon after social distancing measures began, we launched the Legends at Home series and Performing Artist Support Fund, which employed and raised funds for artists who quickly found themselves out of work, and provided a free opportunity for people at home to enjoy talent they would typically see on stages around town. Most recently, we created #ArtsHuntRVA in partnership with CultureWorks to feature 20 arts and culture organizations in a free interactive experience that lets people explore outside in a safe way and brings awareness to these organizations and the inspiring ways that they continue to serve the community during the pandemic.