People have been craving entertainment throughout the coronavirus pandemic. For those who are fans of the performing arts, the sudden lack of performances could be seen as an annoyance, but for those artists whose livelihoods depend on performing, the pandemic has caused monumental financial stress.
Before COVID-19, performing artists were commonly underpaid, and both federal and state funding for the arts was less than ideal. Many artists hold a second job to help financially support themselves, but many of these service industry jobs have also been cut. There is limited government assistance for art departments, and freelance opportunities have dried up in recent months.
“There are a lot of challenges because you are a highly educated person. In a lot of cases you’ve gone through training and college and, yet technically, only qualified for jobs that are in the arts, and those are still low paying,” assistant professor of theater Addie Barnhart said.
As passionate performers attempt to cre- ate art during this time, they have found themselves in uncharted territory and unsure of what to do next.
“What people can do right now is advo- cate for their own comfort level and for their own interest, and if they don’t want to go to things in person, support those things that are online,” said George Dippold, performing arts coordinator at Pottawattamie Arts, Culture and Entertainment.
PACE opened in February 2020, and its first show, “The Music Man,” was shut down after only two performances due to the pandemic.
It has been attempting a phased reopening, as it feels pressure to stay active as a new organization in the community. PACE does this by working with partner groups for orchestra, ballet and community theater. The building is meant to be a multipurpose hub for these partner organizations and the community as a whole.
While staying involved during this time can be difficult, supporting virtually or sharing how you might attend a performance are great ways to stay involved with the arts community right now.
“I would really prioritize being in dialog with one another,” Dippold said.
Emma Givens, a touring theater artist, educator and community activist, has been applying for grants to create work for other communities; her most recent play’s debut was canceled due to COVID-19. Givens sees theater as a way to help communities heal and productively change in the future, which is one reason why she is so passionate about finding more opportunities to write plays and perform soon.
“The thing that is important about theater — that I think people forget — is that it is a really powerful tool for healing, for com- munity building, for starting conversations,” Givens said.
“There is so much going on in the world right now and in the U.S. right now that I think that theater can play a really huge part in helping us do the healing that we need to do as a society, as a country and as individu- als,” she said.
The performing arts have developed and changed during COVID-19, which is something Givens would like to see continue in the future. Expanding the representation of those in the arts, as well as the communities that are able to get involved, are key issues for creating a more inclusive space in the theater.
The regional performing arts community of Omaha has not been put on pause, and neither should the enthusiasm and involvement of the community. Supporting artist relief funds or looking for volunteer opportunities are both ways to show support during this time.
“People in the arts are the change-makers, we are the people on the front line of creative thinking, we are taught to be adaptable, we know how to work on a very little budget and create something incredible out of that,” said Barnhart.