COVID Could be a Death Knell for the Arts—or a Rebirth | Opinion

Pandemics inspire art. This has been true throughout history. As Public Radio International put it, "quarantines have spurred artists to create (think Shakespeare, Frida Kahlo or Edvard Munch, among others)."

Throughout the last several months, we've seen a slew of artistic projects arise as a direct response to COVID-19. The Coronavirus murals of pandemic-inspired street art. Bansky going undercover as a London street cleaner. A Russian artist lighting the word "future" on fire in an act that Newsweek said "perfectly sums up 2020." And as scholar Betty Govinden noted in the journal Agenda, "There have been many spectacular online events, where creativity and generosity have been freely offered to nurture and sustain hope in a time of crisis."

As a musician, I know first-hand how this time we're living through is incubating artistic projects. People like me, who live alone and are unable to go out often with groups of friends, have had more time to pour into artistic projects. Solitude has always helped lead to art. In fact, some inmates have turned solitary confinement cells into art spaces.

It's also a function of the emotional experience. The pandemic has left 90% of Americans experiencing emotional distress, a national survey found. Younger adults, who comprise a large swath of the artistic community, were found to be even more likely than their older counterparts to report negative emotions as a result of the pandemic.

For me, finishing a new music compilation has been an essential part of how to get by. Laying down vocals and guitar tracks for projects I was procrastinating on offers a chance to feel good and accomplished while I'm missing my friends and social experiences. Instead of going out to clubs and restaurants on Friday nights, I start fiddling around on the guitar—and hours go by, like a great mental escape. The music I've been creating lately is upbeat, filled with optimism and hope for the times that we can all party together again.

This process also helps fill a need. Artists like me are driven to increase our "creation to consumption" ratio. We want to offer something that may have an impact for other people, and are dissatisfied watching Netflix and YouTube.

I'm one of millions of artists who also have full-time jobs in order to pay the bills. When I'm not making music, I'm leading growth marketing at Nextiva, a cloud communications company based out of Scottsdale, AZ. But people whose livelihoods depend on selling their art are suffering greatly during the pandemic. As The Miami Herald reports, the once flourishing arts scene in Miami (where I happen to live) is being "battered" by COVID-19. Galleries have closed, exhibitions and performances have been canceled, and the industry is in a tailspin.

There are some bright spots. Music streaming is on the rise, which can be an opportunity for new artists to be discovered. That's particularly important for those who would usually depend on live events to build a fan base. (For someone trying to make it as a songwriter in 2020, sync licensing opportunities are the best channels for generating digital revenue streams.) Still, overall, artists everywhere are legitimately concerned about what the future may look like.

During this time when so many people are struggling financially, it may be out of the question for many families. But those who can afford to purchase and sponsor art should know how important it is.

There's a long history of this kind of patronage during pandemics. The Economist points out that the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed between a third and a half of Europe's population, "helped clear a path to the Renaissance," though for a devastating reason. The pandemic led to greater inequality, and the wealthy could afford to "finance great art."

While we all work to fight against the rise in inequality, one important step is for those with means to support the arts—including works created by people of color and other underrepresented groups. (Take, for example, a fund supporting new works by Black artists in the Louisville area.)

The U.N. has worked to remind people that the arts can "unite and connect" people in times of crisis. It can also do something more: leave a record of what this time in history was like. Art historians are already working to curate that. Artworks of all kinds created during pandemics can serve as indelible signs of what humanity went through. After all, as the Associated Press puts it, artworks will be among the things that "shape how the world remembers the coronavirus pandemic for years and centuries to come."

Gaetano DiNardi is the director of growth marketing at Nextiva. His music is available at officialgaetano.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.