In attempting to understand the impact of the pandemic on artists and the arts, we need to start by recognizing that this new crisis has collided with an arts economy that was already severely weakened by 20 years of digital assault. The assault has taken the form, specifically, of demonetization. Any content that can be transmitted over the Internet—music, text, still images, video—has seen its price severely cut, often to zero. Across a wide range of fields, major revenue sources have crumbled: for musicians, recorded music sales; for writers, freelance fees and book advances; for publications, advertising revenue; for the movie business, ticket sales as well as DVD sales and rentals.
As a result, artists and cultural institutions have learned to seek their income from sources that cannot be digitized, meaning physical objects and live experiences—especially live experiences. Musicians tour, tour, tour. Writers give readings and talks, teach classes, do residencies. For visual artists like illustrators, animators, and cartoonists, classes and workshops have also been key. Publications monetize their brands with panoplies of live events. Festivals of all kinds (music, film, comedy, books) have proliferated, as have art fairs (a major venue now for the sale of high-end visual art) and fan conventions like Comic-Con (which are huge for a range of creative fields).
None of that, of course, can happen now. The crisis has not just hit theaters, though their closure has been devastating for orchestras and ensembles; opera, dance, and theater companies; and the artists who create and perform for them. It has not just hit museums, galleries, art spaces, and the artists whose work they show. The major basis of much of the contemporary arts economy—live, in-person, face-to-face events—has been destroyed. And even the one art that was not weakened before the pandemic, the one creative arena that had been thriving financially in the 21st century, television, has suspended production, throwing tens of thousands out of work…
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