5 simple ways to help support performing artists during the pandemic

Sunny Hitt.
Photo by Maddy Talias

As of April 2020, as many as 47% of workers in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector are unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For performing artists, specifically, the situation looks grim, given the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them earn a living through the gig economy doing one-offs or a series of shows that are likely canceled for the year.

Large gatherings for events like concerts, theater, dance, and comedy are "going to take a long time to come back," says Ernie Tedeschi, economist at financial advisory firm Evercore.

"Right now, we're in this essential/nonessential discussion," says New York-based dancer and performer Sunny Hitt. "Our industry is nonessential right now. … And we're gonna be nonessential for a long time."

Here are five simple ways to support performing artists while the future of their industry remains unclear.

Pay for their work

Many artists are still performing, they're just doing it digitally. Improvisers are putting on virtual shows, for example, and performers like Hitt are throwing dance parties with music tailored specifically for the occasion.

Some of these events require a cover charge, others don't. Regardless, whether you're sitting back and being entertained or actively participating in a virtual event, you can find out artists' Venmo handles and, if you like what they do, send along some thank-you cash.

You don't need to wait for an official virtual performance to give. If you like a joke from a comedian you follow on Twitter, for example, or a musician you follow on Instagram shared a song they covered, you can send them some cash, whatever you feel is fair. It's entirely possible if they weren't stuck at home, they'd be telling that joke or playing that song on stage and getting paid for it.

Screenshot of Social Disdance party.
Photo by Ani Taj

Donate to their organizations

As performers, as well as supporting staff like sound technicians, stage managers, and costume designers, lose job opportunities, organizations like Broadway Cares, MusiCares, and The Actors Fund have been stepping in to provide financial and sometimes even medical assistance to those in need. The Actors Fund, for example, has sent grants of between $1,000 and $2,000 to more than 8,700 applicants since the start of the crisis.

"We've never seen anything like this pandemic," says Joe Benincasa, CEO of The Actors Fund, "and we recognize that we're gonna have to be here to help artists for a long time."

Donate to these organizations' Covid-19 relief funds or find others like them on the National Endowment for the Arts' site.

Take their classes

Many artists supplement their income by teaching online. Ever considered taking singing, ukulele, or acting lessons? This could be a great time.

Sites like Lessonface and TakeLessons let you take virtual classes in anything from bass guitar to improv starting at just $15 per 30-minute lesson. If you're looking for something a bit more comprehensive or have a bit more cash to spare, consider buying a class package on Udemy for about 10 hours of piano lessons ($135) or 12 hours of music theory lessons ($75).

Share their work

Don't have money to spare?  You can still elevate artists and the organizations that fund them by spreading the word about opportunities to support them.

Retweet them, shout them out on Instagram, or share their work on Facebook. You can even send an old-school blast email to family and friends about a particular Covid-19 relief fund or artist whose work you really want to highlight.

Get creative

"I think the beautiful thing is, this is an opportunity to dream," says Hitt. As crisis has bred innovation in the business world, so, too, can it allow people to reconsider how they interact with artists.

Considering a break-up with your significant other but need a bit of practice before that difficult conversation? Hire an actor to rehearse with you. Looking for a fun team bonding exercise? Hire a choreographer to teach the team their very own dance over Skype. Heartbroken that the band you were so excited to see play live this summer's canceled their tour? Join up with other friends and fans to hire a local cover band to perform on Zoom. 

"We have the capacity as artists to dream and to imagine what we want," says Hitt. So look up artists scheduled to perform at your local comedy clubs, theaters, concert halls, and so on, reach out to them, and see what you can dream up together.

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