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As festivals and art shows shut down due to coronavirus, what’s the effect on local artists?

Group events like festivals are being shut down around the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But the effects are being felt by independent artists who rely on sales at art festivals for their income

Anna Hansen of The Hex Press Printing in Salt Lake City.
Anna Hansen

Adam Hoffman has been a full-time festival artist for the last three years, traveling to as many as 35 art festivals around the country in the course of a year to promote and sell his work. And up until a few weeks ago, Hoffman believed that 2020 was going to be his best year yet.

“I have been working really hard the last few years to get established,” Hoffman told the Deseret News. “This year, that was finally coming to fruition.”

Starting at the end of March, Hoffman had planned to spend the year traveling to festivals in Houston, Oklahoma City and Cincinnati, to name just a few. Based in Salt Lake City, Hoffman is one of many independent artists whose main source of income comes from sales at art shows and festivals across the country.

In the last three years, Hoffman said he’s seen sales of his artwork increasing by 30% to 40%.

“I really thought this was going to be my year,” Hoffman said.

Artist Adam Hoffman stands with his work at the Utah Arts Festival.
Adam Hoffman

But that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Festivals across the country have begun canceling their events in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and artists like Hoffman are struggling with what to do next.

“Almost all of my income comes from selling my art at these festivals,” Hoffman said. But several of the shows he had been planning on this year have already canceled, including the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City, and with the coronavirus pandemic still spreading across the country, he expects more cancellations will come.

The effect on Utah artists

Hoffman is not the only artist to have been affected by canceled events. As the coronavirus continues to spread, increasing numbers of galleries and museums around the country have shut their doors, and theaters and concert halls have postponed performances.

In Utah, the arts community has already taken a hit. The pandemic has already cost the state’s cultural sector over $29 million, according to a report compiled by several arts organizations in Utah, the Deseret News reported on Monday.

Of the 534 arts organizations and individual artists surveyed in the report, 54.5% of respondents said they had seen their income decrease as a result of COVID-19, according to the Deseret News.

These shutdowns present a challenge for artists like Anna Hansen, who runs The Hex Press Printing in Salt Lake City.

Hansen creates art on-site at events ranging from farmers markets to corporate parties. She uses hand-carved linoleum blocks to print designs on T-shirts, aprons, tote bags and more. Customers can choose the design and watch as it’s printed in front of them.

For artists like Hansen who “rely on social gatherings” to sell their work, it’s a challenging time, Hansen told the Deseret News, pointing out that social gatherings are “the exact opposite of what needs to happen right now” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Art as a business

Small businesses have been the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic, with everything from restaurants to yoga studios having to find ways to adapt and sometimes having to close their doors to comply with state health restrictions.

Independent artists may not be among those people first think of in connection to struggling, small businesses, but artists are just as affected.

“A lot of people don’t think of art as a business, but there are thousands of us that make our living off of our art,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman originally had a background in engineering, but found himself drawn to art — specifically, to patterns and fractals and the ways they are found in nature. He is self-taught in creating what he calls “digital fractal art.”

Hoffman creates “digital fractal art” based on patterns found in nature.
Hoffman creates “digital fractal art” based on patterns found in nature.
Adam Hoffman

Hoffman had been looking forward to the Utah Arts Festival, which was scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City in June. He said the festival is typically one of his biggest shows in terms of sales and was concerned that this year’s festival would get canceled.

His fears were confirmed on Tuesday, when the the Utah Arts Festival announced that they had decided to postpone this year’s event until June 2021.

Hoffman is not the only one concerned. Hansen also told the Deseret News that the summer is usually her biggest earning quarter.

“Farmers markets and all the craft fairs in Utah are in the summertime,” she said.

Hansen counts herself fortunate that she still has savings from last summer, having planned ahead knowing that winter is always a slower season. Still, she doesn’t expect the money to last if things don’t improve.

Continuing to look ahead, Hansen said she has already signed herself up for classes in graphic design software.

Printing from The Hex Press Printing in Salt Lake City.
Anna Hansen

She said graphic design is “deviating away from what my normal work would be and what I built my company around,” but that she’s trying to prepare for the worst.

“Nobody knows how long this is going to be going on,” Hansen said. “Nobody knows how seriously this is really going to hit us and what it’s going to look like two, three, four months down the road.”

Community and government support

The uncertainty is part of the challenge that artists and art organizations currently face. The Utah Arts Festival was “carefully monitoring local and national guidelines and recommendations for large-gatherings” for weeks before deciding to postpone the event, according to a press release from the festival on Tuesday.

In a statement to the Deseret News earlier this week, Utah Arts Festival Executive Director Lisa Sewell had acknowledged that “things can change rapidly.”

The festival, which is Utah’s largest outdoor multidisciplinary arts event and takes place every year in downtown Salt Lake City, has now been postponed from June 2020 to June 2021.

In the meantime, the festival has said that they will try to “keep the festival vibes alive” in 2020, and that they are “working with their artistic coordinators to identify opportunities that will allow the Utah Arts Festival to maintain its connection with the community and continue to support and promote art and artists as well as their other non-profit partners,” according to the festival’spress release.

“The arts community in Utah is strong and supportive,” Sewell told the Deseret News.

Across the country, large organizations as well as the government have been trying to find the best ways to support the arts community during this challenging time.

Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, after announcing on Wednesday that they will continue to suspend performances through May 23 to follow state guidelines, said in a statement that they join “counterparts in other orchestras and opera companies across the country to lobby Congress to release financial aid to offset losses” the organizations are facing.

The economic relief bill that was passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities and $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, according to The New York Times. The amount is a far cry from what some museum groups were pushing for, which was up to $4 billion.

“This isn’t a frivolous, fun little thing,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree, the leader of the Congressional Arts Caucus, according to The New York Times. “This is an employer of a lot of people and a big sector of the economy.”

How to support local artists

Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by independent artists during this time of pandemic is that many people in their communities are also struggling. Small businesses face big challenges and the unemployment rate is skyrocketing, which means the community support local artists rely on is dwindling.

Hansen said her own demographic, ages 25 to late 30s, are those who most often buy her work, and they are also one of the groups who have been hardest hit by layoffs at restaurants or bars.

“It’s hard to ask people like, ‘Hey, I know we’re all in this boat together. Would you mind chipping in?’” Hansen said.

For those with the financial means, the most direct way of supporting local artists right now is to buy their work, according to Hoffman.

“We already have it hard enough trying to compete with big box stores and online art dealers,” Hoffman said. “It’s the same concept as supporting small business. If you buy art from a small local artist, you are putting food directly on the table for that artist.”

But the most important way to support local artists is simple, according to Hansen.

“The biggest way that you can support your community right now is to stay home and stop the spread of this disease,” Hansen said. “The sooner we can contain this, the sooner we can get back to our normal lives. And business can resume.”