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Creativity in times of pandemic: How artists are creating and enduring the crisis 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects, it has had on the U.S financial health – 46 million unemployment claims as of this past week – artists and freelancers have to adapt as many major projects have now been canceled or put on hold. According to a survey from the American for the Arts, a non-profit organization located in Washington, D.C., up to 62% of artists were jobless, and more than 94% had experienced a loss of income from the virus outbreak. 

With many theatres, galleries, shops, bars, and other venues closed, local artists face a daunting challenge to make their efforts noticeable. 

Musicians have had their concerts canceled for the immediate future, while visual artists no longer have the markets, stores, and galleries to showcase and sell their work. In this new normalcy, artists have been forced to adapt their methods to continue bringing in income. 

This turned out to be a genuine opportunity for some – artists always know how to adapt in economic hard times – they usually find new ways to create, no matter what. 

Tough times brought by the pandemic aren’t new for those in the profession. 

For Silvia Lopez Chavez, a normal year would usually be out in the Boston area, creating dives and swirls of bright colors along the giant walls that she has made her canvas. Silvia experienced the pandemic effects personally, so she had to focus her creative flow on “whatever work will put food on the table.” 

Lopez Chavez says artists are innate survivors, “we’ve always known how to mold ourselves to fit our needs.” Now more than ever, she thinks people realize the importance of public art – which is the capacity to bring wonder, joy, and a glimpse of hope when you’re outside during this time that is so difficult and challenging. 

This led artists like Lopez Chavez to ‘think more digitally” – she plans to incorporate elements of virtual and augmented reality to her murals, which means her murals could physically exist on the wall, and also virtually exist on a computer or phone for pedestrians to interact with. 

Freelancers, self-employed artists, and gig-workers – eligible for the new emergency loans

For the first time, freelancers and artists have found that they are now qualified for unemployment payments under the U.S government CARES Act. But what artists don’t know is that they can also receive benefits from the new loan program, also known as PPP. The financial aid is meant to provide financial help for small businesses and nonprofits of fewer than 400 employees to keep their workers on the payroll, but many sole owners qualify as well. 

If you run your own organization, even if you don’t pay yourself as an employee, that means you’re a sole proprietor – as long as you report the business income on your tax return form. That said, it’s a good way for individual artists to benefit from PPP. 

According to Smarter Loans, if at least 75% of the loan is used for payroll, the payroll will be overlooked. And, as was expected, some artists have already taken advantage of the benefit. With PPP being ever-present in the news, we were happy to learn that self-employed and freelancers are eligible to apply. 

The key to applying for a PPP, however, is whether the artists can prove to banks that they operate with a payroll. As you may know, money comes in as revenue from art sales, and they subtract their business expenses – however, that’s not what’s going to get artists the PPP. Banks are now looking at the reports and payroll data, which means that artists have to bring some mechanism of the studio business paying the artists as “employees” of the company. So, if artists can show they are paying themselves, they qualify as the studio business employees and thus receive the PPP. 

Who is eligible for these benefits?

If you happen to be a part-time or full-time employee who has recently lost your job, or if you are a freelancer or self-employed who has recently lost work, you will qualify for either pandemic unemployment assistance or unemployment insurance. 

To be eligible for the third part, pandemic unemployment compensation, you have to have lost your job (either gig work or full time) and have been directly impacted by the COVID-19. The relevant scenarios are quite broad. For instance, if you or a family member happen to contract the disease, or if quarantine has stopped you from reaching your office, you’re qualifying for the $600-a-week payment. 

How much can I expect to receive in assistance?

The government determines both pandemic unemployment assistance and traditional unemployment after checking your 2019 tax return and the other benefits you may be receiving ( for example, receiving severance payments or sick leave from an employer can impact how much you’re eligible for). 

Social distancing already a way of life.

For today’s artists, “stay at home,” together with 6-foot social distancing guidelines, aren’t far from their norm. Innate solitary people, artists pay by themselves, so they are not really meeting a lot of people in their studios.

That said, as the world is changing, the inside of an artist’s studio, not so much. They can’t really be creative on demand; however, they need to stay at home, so it’s no big deal to just keep painting.

For some artists, the pandemic has actually planted seeds of inspiration. Suceda, a painter from Costa Mesa, said she is grateful for the unexpected time off work spent with his family, each in creative endeavors: photography, floristry, crafts, and building.

Sauceda believes that at some point, everyone is going to understand the time that they took for granted spending with their loved ones and all these positive things they’re going to experience. He’s planning up a new painting: tall grass streaming out of a vacant lot where an old block was bulldozed.

 


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