The Looming Arts Crisis

Editorial: The Looming Arts Crisis

by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal

As the end of July approaches, so does the expiration date on the current pandemic benefits. Without extended unemployment benefits, which includes the $600/week pandemic unemployment compensation program, many in our community of dancers/movers as well as fellow artists will face unprecedented challenges and may be forced to leave the field altogether.

Of course, this suits the current administration just fine as Ivanka Trump, in advising her father President Donald Trump, kicks off a new ad campaign dubbed, “Find Something New.” This initiative, launched just this week, is aimed at helping unemployed Americans find a new career path. This heralded campaign is occurring as a new round of layoffs and continued unemployment looms, and states are forced to pause or reverse their plans to reopen amid the fresh surge in covid virus cases.

So the question to the American public that seriously needs to be addressed is  – Can you imagine a life without the arts – dance, music, theater, art, literature, film or television?

Unlike any other field, we are forever conducting studies to justify our existence and value. Just this month, the Knight Foundation, and Urban Institute released another study citing “that people with access to arts and cultural amenities are more deeply attached to their communities”. There is also a host of economic studies, which essentially show that arts and culture add over $800 billion dollars annually to the US economy, not to mention the benefit on the local level as well.

Beyond the economic impact, dance and the arts have a very personal impact on all of us. It educates, heals, contributes to physical and psychological health and well being, teaches us empathy, taps into our own creativity, helps us understand our commonality, addresses issues, and generally makes the world a better place in which to live. Now more than ever the arts are needed to help us as a society to come together and begin to find a place for physical, mental, and emotional recovery and healing from all that has occurred around us during these difficult times.

As it is, dance and arts work pays nearly unlivable wages, but this is a field driven more by passion than by economics. Savings, if at all present, necessary to survive this pandemic with no income has already begun to run out for the majority. Many dance studios have already closed unable to afford the monthly rent and expenses. Theaters are facing challenges as they sit empty or only allowed to open at an extremely reduced capacity that is simply economically not feasible. Dance companies unable to survive solely on virtual presentations have begun to question their existence and future.

Dancers want to work, they want to create, perform, and contribute. However, many are now tasked with finding “other” work during a time when there is a hiring freeze in all sectors of the economy.  Until we can return to work safely, or until more jobs become available, there needs to be some guarantee of livable unemployment.

To be clear, this is NOT a handout as posed by some in government. I am tired of hearing that word used over and over again.  This is the use of our tax dollars, to which we have fully contributed as part of a workforce from which we remain indefinitely shut out through no fault of our own. It is also NOT preventing us from returning to work, as though an extra $600 per week is incentive enough for us to rest on our laurels lounging about versus returning to the workforce. Such statements only show the complete inequity of our current system and any comprehension of what 70% or more of all Americans go through on a daily basis just to stay afloat. To be clear, we are not the only job sector relying on such funds, but we may be the last that are allowed to fully go back to work.

In the end, this is not just about survival but also our humanity. So I ask again, can you imagine a world without dance or the arts?

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