Coronavirus Hits the Arts Community Hard
On Thursday, March 12, four of Boston’s biggest art museums made the joint decision to close until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic and mandates for social distancing. The Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Harvard Art Museums all shuttered until further notice. From there, a wave of theaters, galleries and concert halls followed suit.
“The CDC has clearly communicated that one of the most effective measures for controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is social distancing,” said the museum directors in a joint statement. “Based on that recommendation, we feel it is our ethical responsibility to put the common good ahead of any one individual or institution. We know we are stronger together.”
The Museum of Fine Arts and other institutions made clear that their salaried, hourly, temporary and union workers will continue to be paid while the museums are closed. Museum security will also still be active during the closure to monitor the collection.
Theaters across the board, from the American Repertory Theater to Speakeasy Stage Company, have similarly canceled current and future productions and shut down operations. Central Square Theater held its last performance of “Pipeline” on Sunday, March 15 to a sizeable but somber crowd.
While these steps are proactive and appropriate public health measures, they have the potential to devastate small arts organizations that rely on regular traffic and a spring fundraising push. For operations without endowments and heavy-hitting donors, the next few weeks will be a desperate fight for survival.
In response to these closures, the City of Boston announced it will be modifying the Opportunity Fund to support artists needs in the wake of the developing health crisis. The fund typically provides grants of up to $2,000 to local artists to support artists, access to the arts and arts events.
Now renamed the Boston Artist Relief Fund, it will award grants of $500 to $1000 to individual artists living in Boston who are impacted. The intention is to provide support to individuals who work on a freelance or gig-based timeline and are losing that income due to canceled events and productions. The relief fund will be open and operating on a rolling basis through June 30, 2020, when it will revert back to its original function.
The Boston Center for the Arts has created a secure online platform where individuals can contribute to the Artist Relief fund. Nonprofits and small theater groups are also reminding at-home art lovers that donations are welcome. Donors can also support these at-risk art hubs by purchasing advance tickets or season passes now for when the venues reopen.
Art organizations are putting forward a brave face, despite funding concerns. As the museum directors’ statement says, “We know we are stronger together. We look forward to reopening when it is safe for the public, staff and volunteers.”