The Battle of Two Pandemics: To Survive COVID-19 We Must Protect the Arts

By Jennings Brooks

 

Donna Kreuger, owner of dk Gallery and art entrepreneur, describes herself as a “hugger by nature.” While her two children, Jessica and Justin, are fully grown, Donna now relishes the time embracing her three grandchildren instead. Always one to show up early to a party and stay late, lost in conversations about her latest find, Donna has built up a community of artists, collectors and patrons across the world to support dk Gallery, jet setting cross country in hopes to give budding contemporary artists their first shot in the modern art world. Having been deemed the best art gallery in Atlanta, showcasing in dk Gallery has grown to become an accolade in the industry. As of March 15th, however, the esteemed doors of the 1800s converted storefront on Marietta Square closed to the public for the first time, not knowing when they would reopen.

 

The impact of the new coronavirus world pandemic has not only affected our healthcare systems, economies and businesses, but also the arts industry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Art Institute for Chicago have closed their doors to the masses. Local galleries such as dk Gallery are no longer luring an unsuspecting passerby in for justone peek or putting on showcases for the collection of newly discovered talent. Local artists remained sheltered in their studios, fervently using society’s pause to work on pieces they hope to sell when the world we are living in returns to the one we once knew. Our world is dealing with a global pandemic – but will the arts be forgotten in the wake of the coronavirus? 

 

Sherry Meeks is a retired interior designer turned potter living in New York City. Her time is spent in the studio spinning, coning, coiling and glazing, indulging in an obsession kept from her as a child. Meeks’ parents grew up during the Great Depression and discouraged her from pursuing the arts in order to find a practical job. “I grew up in the fifties,” said Meeks. “There wasn’t much for a woman to do except be a teacher or a stewardess. So, I chose to study Art Education, even though I hated the idea of teaching.” 

 

It was at the end of the Great Depression into the New Deal Era from 1933-1939, however, that artists were finally treated as valuable workers by the federal government. The New Deal was enacted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to the financial struggles of the Great Depression, utilizing public works projects and federal programs to offer relief to the American people. The government employed artists across the nation to paint murals, take photographs and create posters and prints. 

 

The pioneers of photojournalism, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, got their start during the New Deal Era, working as photographers in the Farm Security Administration’s Resettlement Administration. These photographers were to document the work done by the agency and capture scenes of the American people, and most notoriously, the many hardships of the Dust Bowl. Lange’s iconic image “Migrant Mother” depicted the trials of a post-depression American family and continues to be featured in most modern American history textbooks.  

 

Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning who would later be known as the early founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement received some of their first commissions through New Deal programs such as the Federal Art Project (FAP) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Required to submit a painting every four to six weeks to be displayed in public buildings throughout the country, Pollack and de Kooning utilized the steady income of New Deal programs and increased studio time to experiment with the innovative techniques that would later lay claim to their esteemed success. 

 

Americans for the Arts conducted a study to try and measure the initial economic impact of the coronavirus on arts and culture organizations across the country. Of the more than 11,000 organizations surveyed for this study, it was determined that there has been a combined national loss of $4.8 billion due to social distancing and coronavirus impacts, with the average loss per organization measuring at $38,000 in just three weeks. Only 59% of organizations believe that their operations will survive the impacts of COVID-19. While many museums have been engaging their audiences online with virtual museum tours and collection viewings, the total number of lost event attendance is staggering, leveling at about 45.6 million. Jobs have been lost, shows have been cancelled, traveling exhibitions put on pause and patrons of the arts have put any philanthropic donations on the back burner. The economic loss of the industry is extreme and may continue to grow worse without federal support.

 

An economic threat is being felt worldwide. In Australia, airline companies are expected to receive a $715 million bailout from the government. The Australian arts and culture sector contribute over $111.7 billion to the economy, compared to air travel’s $18.42. billion. The arts are what society leans on in times of crisis, and it is in times as these the arts must be supported in order to not only endure, but flourish on the other side.

 

On a local scale, gallery owners like Kreuger and local artists, such as University of Georgia senior Lily Harrington, seemed relaxed in regard to the pressures of COVID-19 on the industry. “Thiswas honestly one of my biggest obstacles as an artist and full-time student,” explains Harrington. “I simply couldn’t find the time to get in front of the easel. I’ve discovered a newfound patience and urge to paint during these times.”Things are harder for smaller artists such as Meeks, who must create her work in a local ceramic studio. A New York City resident, Meeks challenges herself to find inspiration in a desolate city as non-essential businesses, including her studio, remain closed. Local artists such as Meeks and Harrington are further utilizing this absence from society to hone their marketing efforts and online presence. Photographing their new work and building a social media brand are ways they keep their audience engaged, hopeful that this pause in society will allow others to discover a newfound adoration of artistic beauty. 

 

To support these local artists Kreuger advises to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” and show online support. dk Gallery strives to support their artist community by transitioning important events such as the Marietta Square Galleries Art Walk to virtual platforms. According to Kreuger, hundreds of art walk participants would usually come through their gallery but with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to open non-essential businesses on Friday, April 24, dk Gallery is still determining what running a gallery with social distancing precautions may look like. 

 

Art consultant and journalist Andras Szanto argues that museums should be some of the first institutions to open with social distancing protocols in place. Szantos reflected on the Tuesday of the 9/11 crisis remembering “by that weekend, many of New York City’s museums had reopened.” In a 2018 public opinion poll conducted by the Americans for the Arts, 82% of those surveyed regarded the arts as a “positive experience in a troubled world.” In congruence with these findings, the American Psychoanalytic Association notes our society is battling two different outbreaks: “a pandemic of the virus and a pandemic of anxiety.” People all around the world are spending time in quarantine watching new TV shows and classic films from streaming networks, learning new recipes through online video tutorials, redecorating their homes, listening to music, sharing Spotify playlists and experimenting with DIY projects to feel value in the day again. Our society is constantly engaging with the arts without ever realizing it. It is the arts that help to get us to persevere in times of crisis, so it is the arts we must in turn protect. 

 

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude,” said German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The world has been put on pause, society forced to pare down our daily routines and excursions to absolute necessity. This respite from Krueger’s daily life has allowed her to slow down, “making the most of our time personally and professionally.”  With a third grandbaby to be born in May, Krueger will be eager and grateful to see the last of COVID-19.  

 

 

 

Sources

Donna Krueger, Owner of dk Gallery, dk@dkgallery.us

Lily Harrington, UGA Student and Local Artist, lch29245@uga.edu

Sherry Meeks, Potter, shermeeks@gmail.com

“Artists of the New Deal.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Sept. 2017, www.history.com/topics/great-depression/artists-of-the-new-deal.

Boden, Paul. “Art and Activism: 1930s and Today.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/art-activism-1930s-today_b_1098260?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAJEo0N6DujiBTuAfnrun6FhF-DZ_3xqbRHmTEi6GdZE2031kVa0VNas9sgxJPK9yeYE8kRs99bjQ-SLuNjW4ysGY6E6Z1MEFVfjz6MPjhQpXA0Q9sO7rl6u4KVc2iXdPpDSy8TIBy0P_r6_sAcEoZC6NdiL1EbnrhOQdLpLGrqcL.

Dafoe, Taylor. “The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Cost American Arts Organizations a Collective $4.5 Billion So Far, a New Study Says.” Artnet News, Artnet News, 9 Apr. 2020, news.artnet.com/art-world/arts-organizations-lost-4-5-billion-pandemic-says-ambitious-new-study-1829262.

Dk Gallery, ArtCloud, 2020, dkgallery.us/about.

Law, Benjamin. “In Times of Crisis, We Turn to the Arts. Now the Arts Is in Crisis – and Scott Morrison Is Silent | Benjamin Law.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Mar. 2020, www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/27/in-times-of-crisis-we-turn-to-the-arts-now-the-arts-is-in-crisis-and-the-federal-government-is-missing-in-action.

“New Deal.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/great-depression/new-deal.

Szanto, Andras. “People Need Art in Times of Crisis. That's Why Museums Should Be Among the First Institutions to Reopen for Business-Here's How.” Artnet News, Artnet News, 14 Apr. 2020, news.artnet.com/opinion/andras-szanto-op-ed-reopening-museums-1832439.

“The Economic Impact of Coronavirus on the Arts and Culture Sector.” Americans for the Arts, Americans for the Arts, 18 Mar. 2020, www.americansforthearts.org/by-topic/disaster-preparedness/the-economic-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-arts-and-culture-sector.

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