Arts during a pandemic: Q&A with Jax Cultural Council's Joy Young - Jacksonville Business Journal
By Alex Wilson – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal
Jun 1, 2020, 2:23pm EDT
As Jacksonville slowly works its way towards a new normal, many artistic and cultural organizations – such as museums and theatres – remain shuttered to the public.
With an increasingly uncertain future, the Jacksonville Business Journal spoke with the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville’s executive director, Joy Young, to see just what the situation looks like for both the Cultural Council and the arts community at large – and what the future might hold.
What is the situation for artists and the art community right now?
I would say that depends on the kind of artists and the kind of organization. Our performance arts organizations – those kinds of art forms that occur in close proximity and an indoor setting – are faring worse than those kinds of organizations where people can naturally spread out and where people don’t touch items. Each kind of organization has to develop their own kinds of protocols that are appropriate for their art discipline and for their audience.
When we talk to individual artists, for some it’s horrible. Artists are suffering now more than ever. With many artists making their income as 10-99 workers or micro-entrepreneurs, their income streams have dried up. The other side of that is – with everyone being more isolated now more than ever – people are turning to the arts to relieve their boredom or stress. Artists are creating – and that’s the thing about artists, they’re always going to create – but in this environment, people are consuming the art products for free.
In many ways, there is something to be said for artists doing this work as a public good – but the truth is, they’re doing the work that they are paid to do at any other time for free. So the situation is bad as it relates to the economy, but it’s beautiful as it relates to the products. What we’re seeing visually, what we’re hearing musically, what we’re reading in poetry and storytelling – those things are still happening. That’s wonderful, we just need to remember that we have to pay our artists. We need to remember that cost and be willing to buy from an artist, to be willing to donate to our favorite arts organization.
How can local businesses and individuals support artists and the art community?
First thing, I would say is that small businesses can certainly include artists in their reopening efforts. Single performances by artists or a single artist performing is a way to create ambience. You can put that artist outside on those sunny days and perform; let's get some music in the air.
There's no reason why our local businesses can't have visual artists as part of their landscape literally and metaphorically: literally painting on site, demonstrating what they do, showing their work, having artwork by local artists in the stores. And then metaphorically understanding that artists can bring creative ideas to a small business. Have a conversation with an artist, ask how they could support an artist. I would say let artists create unique signs, maybe create new ways to have our menus displayed graphically.
There's just so many creative ideas and I certainly don't want to limit someone's thoughts just by sharing my own thoughts. I would say talk to an artist. Ask them ‘Hey, how can I help you?’ I would say businesses could certainly commission an artist for any interior or exterior enhancements, you know, look for opportunities to collaborate with artists. We have fabricators here in our community, who may be able to make some of those items that you might have looked for in China or outsourced. No, look here locally. As a matter of fact, The Cultural Council has a directory of artists take a look at our directory of artists.
What does the road to recovery look like for the arts community?
It does depend upon the kind of art form, but what I would say is that the road looks like taking advantage of our assets – what do we have around us already? For example, the Cultural Council is already assessing the many ways we can take advantage of our parks that are scattered around the city and to offer opportunities for outdoor activities, exhibits and performances.
In other words, things aren’t going to look like they looked like before – and the road to recovery looks like thinking differently.
Now, I think it’s going to be different if we have a vaccine in October versus if we have a vaccine next year in spring. So, those caveats have to be taken into consideration. And finally, we have to realize that our audiences have to feel comfortable coming back. It’s important for us all in this sector – the nonprofits arts and cultural sector – to let people know it’s safe to come back and let people know that we can provide them safe spaces to come back. That we can do those things necessary to ensure their health security.
What’s happening with the Annual Arts Awards?
We are embarking on our 44th Arts Awards – the theme is bridges. And, the theme of bridges really focuses on the interconnectivity between the arts and business community. The interconnectivity is just really key to a thriving city.
We want to reach a new demographic than usually attend the physical annual gala by being online and being a virtual event. We can now welcome businesses and corporations and sponsors because we’re now bridging them through media and technology versus that face and personal touch. And there’s nothing wrong with personal touch, but as I said earlier, we’re taking advantage of our assets and our technology as an asset.
So how do we think about bridging? Businesses who sponsor our Arts Awards are a bridge to a social media platform – our social media platform that bridges them to art enthusiasts and artists who might not have otherwise engaged with them.
We’re engaging what we call Arts Awards Ambassadors, and these are people who are going to help us raise awareness about Arts Awards categories. There are going to be 10 Arts Award categories to include two new categories: small business of the year and people’s choice award.
Our sponsorship opportunities for Arts Awards are, again, creating this new platform of bridging. Our ambassadors are those folks who are out there sharing the word about how the public can engage our online event and how it can be fun and memorable as a virtual experience.
What does the future hold for the Cultural Council?
You know, we’re doing our internal soul searching if you will. What do we do? What can we do? We’re a local art agency and we serve many audiences – we serve, obviously, the organizations we fund directly. But we also serve individual artists. We work in the community through public art, and of course, we’re stewards of public dollars.
So, we’re really thinking and soul searching about how we continue to be able to serve multiple audiences in ways that are meaningful and relevant within our capacity. What we’re also doing is really wanting to step into leadership for the cultural community. I would say that as a leader of our cultural ecosystem, I am working with our staff and listening and responding to our artists and our art organizations to implement new services for institutions and the community served by the Cultural Council.
The future holds for the Cultural Council new kinds of partnerships and collaborators. We’re collaborating with schools of Jacksonville to deliver our summer careers exploration program – these would be careers in the arts. That was a face-to-face program, and now we’re going virtual.
I’m advocating for the community to support both the arts and culture, but I’m also advocating for the community to fund their favorite arts organization – and I’m advocating for affirmative arts policy during this time and of course continuing to partner with the city in new ways.
I end with saying that the future for the Cultural Council is recognizing that communities really are hungry for getting together with communities of artists, communities of organizations. Neighborhoods are eager to get together to share in some kind of activities that are uplifting – even while keeping social distancing in mind. It’s our job to continue to find ways to invest not just financially, but with our social, intellectual and political capital so we can help to return to where we were and to grow beyond where we were prior to the pandemic.
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