Art News

How to Hire Artists Put Out of Work by Coronavirus Cancellations

As the coronavirus disrupts the arts economy, Amber Blais is running a database where artists looking for work can connect with people looking to hire.
As the coronavirus disrupts the arts economy, Amber Blais is running a database where artists looking for work can connect with people looking to hire. Nicholas Caputo
Denver artists and musicians are beginning to panic over how they'll pay the bills if festivals, venues, tours, schools and museums continue to close, cancel or reschedule events because of coronavirus concerns.

"Artists all over the city are wondering what’s going to happen over the next couple months, since a lot of us are living paycheck to paycheck while trying to make art," explains Amber Blais, producing director at Rainbow Militia, a group of circus performers, aerialists and musicians.

Rainbow Militia has several shows coming up and is now weighing whether it would be responsible, from a public health perspective, to move forward with them.

Blais is also involved in Dark Palace, a three-day electronic music festival scheduled for April 9 to 11 that AEG and Meow Wolf are promoting; she has concerns that the event might be canceled (along with SXSW, Coachella, Ultra Miami, Treefort Music Festival and many more that have been shut down or rescheduled over the past few days).

"Right now, you’re not guaranteed any money until you actually perform," Blais explains. "If the event is canceled, you don’t make your money as an artist. It’s a little scary, because you’re counting on that money coming in."

On March 11, Blais found herself talking to David Moke — a curator at the experimental gallery Understudy, alongside Annie Geimer and Thadeaous Mighell — about the anxiety artists are experiencing over whether they can make rent.

Moke has been comparing how the current situation impacting artists and others in the gig economy relates to how the government shutdown affected federal employees who were working without salaries, hoping to receive back pay one day. For performers, even as events are rescheduled, there's no guarantee that more artists will be added to already loaded lineups. That means no extra work, so whatever losses they incur over the next few weeks are likely to be permanent.

"All the performers — they’re not going to get back pay one day," says Moke. "There are only so many Saturdays in a year. There are only so many nights."

A friend of Moke's in the Bay Area created a database where workers in the gig economy can share their skills with those looking to hire people for services. He shared the idea with Blais, who built a database tailored to Denver's arts community within hours of their conversation.

Through that database, artists list the skills that they have, from IT and communications work to babysitting and accounting. People looking to hire in those areas can use the database to get whatever services they need, helping to sustain the city's creative community through trying times.

To be listed, Denver artists fill out an online form; the data from that is released on a Google spreadsheet. Less than a day after the database went live, about twenty artists are listed, offering skills ranging from event planning to editing, social media management, coding, web design, house remodeling, video editing and production, and more.

"Hopefully, it’s an inspirational thing in this time of uncertainty that people can use to help each other out," says Moke. 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris