Artists Under Threat

Artists have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

By Mieko Yamamoto and Nick Beattie

The integration of art in school has acted as a critical component in a student’s learning process. Art presents an opportunity to practice creativity of the mind and body. Art also allows students to generate love and willingness to explore and take risks. Through interacting with the material world using different mediums, art opens individuals to a world of artists. However, creatives now face a threat.

According to a study by the Brookings Institution, art education of all levels positively impacts a student’s engagement in school. Further, it significantly affects college aspirations and art as a means for an individual to empathize with their peers.

Policymakers try to justify cuts to arts budgets. They assert that there is a lack of large-scale empirical research regarding the educational impact of the arts. Furthermore, the qualities these classes work, such as empathy and compassion, are seemingly difficult to measure quantifiably.

Yet, the data says quite the opposite. The Brookings study found that a substantial increase in arts education exhibits remarkable impacts on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes. Such changes caused a 3.6 percent decrease in disciplinary infractions and an improvement of 13 percent in standardized writing test scores. Furthermore, art contributed to an 8 percent increase in their compassion for others.

Art to Success

A study by Standford University presented young people as four times more likely to succeed academically when studying the arts.

Moreover, several other studies suggest art as having positive long-term impacts on college entrance and academic success. However, schools are considering integrating art into core subject curricula.

Their goal is to drive students’ performance in more focal points of standardized exams such as language and mathematics. A person’s artistic ability doesn’t seem to fit into that category. Art, therefore, is seen as a privilege rather than a necessity.

Gregory Schreck, an associate professor of photography at Wheaton College says,

“Because art and music are not categories on standardized tests, with the only exception being the AP exam, it is difficult to quantify its value. It’s a challenge to prove that it is something that is deeply needed on college campuses.”

But it is not just the educational value that colleges must contemplate, but also the ability for students to easily find sustainable careers in that field. Major universities, many that have critically-acclaimed art departments, have had to make tough decisions on keeping the lights on. Whether it be deferring students for a year because of the pandemic or outright closing the department entirely, everything is still on the table.

“Lots of schools have been doing this recently, even before lockdown,” said Schreck. “Calvin College’s department was cut by about half a few years ago…Gordon College seemed to have cut just about all of their faculty, which is sad to see. Even a juggernaut like Yale shut down its photography and art history graduate programs because there is little to no projected job openings for professors in those areas soon.”

Adaptive Solutions

Due to the state of the pandemic, many schools have resorted to conducting classes online. While students have had to adapt to learning from home, art students were affected more than others. Unlike regular classrooms, an art studio is more challenging to recreate over Zoom. That is not to say that you cannot interact with professors in the same way as others. Instead, the studio as a space where students can both produce and store their work is the difficulty. Much of what makes studio art classes challenging to teach digitally is the inability to utilize department resources. “Computers, printers, paints, everything, is no longer at your disposal,” says Schreck.

As a result, schools like Wheaton College have slightly decreased their class sizes to maximize the use of the studio spaces on campus while also maintaining social distancing. “We know that students are struggling. We all are. Half of being an art major is just using the space and the facilities. But if push comes to shove, and we need to go online. Then we’ll figure out an alternative.”

Thus, schools incorporating art and music into their core subjects seems like the best possible option. This integration would ensure that students have an opportunity to express themselves creatively while operating on a shrinking budget. Artists are nothing but scrappy and flexible when it comes to situations like this. But it is not just the schools that are hurting from these cuts.

Impact of COVID-19 on Creatives

The effects of COVID-19 threaten the creative community as schools consider shrinking the budgets in the arts. The arts sectors in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York face a lack of adequate funding. This ultimately results in widespread concern among students and teachers, whose employment stands at stake.

According to HyperAllergic, New York City approved a budget that will cut their allocation to public arts and culture by 11 percent in the fiscal year 2021. The city’s education department will suffer a nearly 30 percent cut to art education programs ($15 million) as well. Additionally, New York is not the only city that has slashed its funding to arts and culture amid the pandemic. Philadelphia cut its arts budget by 40 percent and even eliminated its Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy. 

The arts are for everyone, both rich and poor. It makes the community more robust and opens the door for opportunities in the future. But professional artists have struggled much throughout the pandemic, especially following cuts to funding the country’s cultural sector.

Resilience Amidst the Pandemic

Americans for the Art launched the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers. In recognizing the dire need for creatives in the nation’s recovery, this nonprofit primarily focuses on advancing the arts in the U.S.

This survey allows individuals to share their individual experiences regarding how the pandemic impacted them creatively, socially, financially, and professionally. The survey shows that 95 percent of artists lost their income, 62 percent are now fully unemployed, and 80 percent don’t yet have a recovery plan.

To support artists during the COVID-19 crisis, the Artist Relief took the initiative in offering financial and informational resources to artists across the United States. Since its launch in April, the relief has raised $20 million and will be offering $5000 grants to creative professionals through December 2020.

The coalition of arts grantmakers includes the Academy of American Poets, Artadia, Creative Capital, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, MAP Fund, National YoungArts Foundation, and United States Artists.

To remedy structural barriers, the fund aims to provide support to those disproportionately affected by the pandemic–BIPOC artists.

According to the New York Times, of the 2,700 individuals awarded funds from April to September, 48 percent were women, 24 percent were Black, 14 percent were Latino, and 13 percent were members of Indigenous groups.

Art binds. COVID-19 has drastically changed the ways individuals go about their daily routine–including artists. However, creatives aren’t letting the shifting professional landscape stop them from producing art. Art transcends differences and brings people together. Though this season lacks physical encounters, creatives continue to strive to tell a story that will inspire reflection.