Many performing artists and performing arts organizations are experiencing the first wave of coronavirus-related cancellations. While fears about cash flow, short-term ramifications, and long-term impact are tempting to fixate on, freaking out about the future isn’t super helpful in the now.
Below are some actions you can take today to increase the likelihood of making it through this uncertain time unscathed and improve your chances of bouncing back quickly on the other end.
For Freelance Artists
Be Gracious, Even When It Hurts
Even though the loss of income may really hurt, try to remember that the human(s) who made the decision to cancel/postpone your engagement are probably full of their own guilt, worry, and fear over an impossible decision. A note along the lines of “Thank you for taking the time to let me know. I know this decision must not have been easy to make. Please stay healthy,” can go a long way in distinguishing you from the onslaught of stress-inducing emails they are likely to be receiving over the coming weeks.
Seek Temporary Remote Work
If you are an artist who also possesses strong administrative skills, you likely know many small to medium-sized arts organizations who are looking for temporary project-based work. As someone who has sought this work out before – trust me, it is everywhere. Most organizations have at least one project they just want done but never have the time to complete. And many organizations would pay $200-$500 to make that long-standing to do item go away completely. The caveat? You have to make it known that you’re looking. Personal emails to organizations that you are connected with work best.
Amp Up Your Teaching
As more schools close and workplaces urge employees to work from home, some of your students may find themselves extremely available and extremely bored. Don’t be afraid to get creative about what this means for your (remote) teaching studio. Maybe you could offer a daily morning warmup class for all of your students, or partner with another teacher and hold some virtual mock auditions. For many who are going stir crazy, you might hold the productive distraction they’re seeking.
Stay in the Now
A cancelled gig this week does not automatically mean you will have cancelled gigs for the next one, two, or five months. While having a loose contingency plan for the distant future might be helpful (key word: might), obsessing over perfecting multiple contingency plans for every situation possible will certainly lead to a very miserable time right now.
For Arts Organizations
Practice Abundant Compassion
Deciding to cancel a performance is a huge decision that is likely to significantly expand your personal to do list. You may even feel extraordinary guilt for cancelling work, and therefore income, for the artists on your roster. Don’t let your stress or guilt prevent you from communicating your decision in an effusively compassionate way. Artists may be upset and may want to speak with you. Try to make the time for them. They likely don’t blame you for the coronavirus, but making it okay for them to ask uncomfortable questions without getting defensive will ultimately speak volumes about you and your organization.
If You Can Pay Something – Do
I understand this is not going to be a possibility for many organizations, but if you just postponed or cancelled a concert please consider paying the musicians a portion of their fee now – even if you are not contractually obligated to. Yes, you may lose some money if a few of the musicians can’t commit to the rescheduled performance. But the longterm payoff will likely be worth way more. If you really can’t swing it, don’t put yourself out of business. However, it’s worth taking the time to consider what a gesture like this could mean for your artists during this period of gig cancellations.
Get Comfortable With the Grey
Don’t have enough information to decide if the concert you just called off will be cancelled completely or postponed? Don’t know when or how you will reschedule your performances? Don’t know what this all means for your audiences, budget, and artist roster? It’s okay. You don’t need to know everything, and you certainly can’t control everything – especially right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lead your organization through times of uncertainty. Leading from within the grey area means loosening your grip on control and accepting that unknowns are an inevitable part of the equation right now.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Even in the best of times, humans tend to significantly overestimate the effectiveness of their communication and significantly underestimate how much communication is ultimately needed. In times of uncertainty and confusion, communication tends to get much worse despite best intentions. The best thing here is to have a plan that can be adjusted. Sending daily updates to your staff and board and weekly updates to your audience and artists may seem excessive, but I guarantee you it’s not. Plus, staying ahead of the communication curve, even if the update is “no update” will help keep the level of panicked inquiries at a manageable level.
As the saying goes – this too shall pass. While we can’t control a lot of what happens externally, we can control 100% of how we react.
If you are anxiously wondering what the coronavirus panic means for your gig-based career or arts organization, and you would like some support in developing a plan for how to approach these next few months –let me know and let’s schedule a call.
Any spare time in my calendar over the coming weeks will be made available to those struggling with this chaos. No strings, sales pitch, expectations, or fee. Just a little extra support from me to those of you who might need it right now. Just an hour of my time for anyone who needs it.
Originally Appeared at Lisa Husseini