What is life after COVID-19 for performing arts organizations in small cities like Camden?

Will organizations like Superior Arts, Camden Rep, IDEA Center for the Arts and others be forced to close before we are able to celebrate our grand openings?

Absolutely not, today we are working to minimize the uncertainty that lies ahead by dealing with it upfront.

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Whether you believe it or not the Arts are of immense value to a community like Camden and to our youth in particular. 

After the recent announcement by Philadelphia's Mayor Jim Kenny who proposed the elimination of the Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy that would put an end to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund which last year distributed over $3 million to community organizations all over Philadelphia.

In his new budget to cope with the revenue loss driven by the coronavirus pandemic the proposed $4 million cut would end grants to hundreds of cultural groups in the city of Philadelphia as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

What does that mean for a place like Camden?

It means the possibility of new opportunities are endless. We understand that as a result of this virus, the arts community across the nation has been devastated.

It’s been whispered that, “If the COVID-19 virus is powerful enough to close down Broadway in New York City indefinitely, it is certainly going to leave its mark.”

Some even say this may be curtains closed for some artists, arts organizations, and artisans because we may not be able to cross to the “New Norm” of digitization. During these uncertain times without a doubt, we are experiencing the untold damage that our industry is facing, but we also realize that there are opportunities that this pandemic is offering us on the other side.

This pandemic made us actually rewrite our fundraising plans, have the long overdue conversation with our boards about the financial stability of our upcoming season, and for the first time really take a look at who we are serving. 

We as arts executives understood that we needed to do some restructuring to the way we conduct business.

The mission of organizations like Camden Rep, IDEA Center for the Arts and Superior Arts are driven by using the arts in challenging times. Most of our constituents face challenging times daily so we aren’t new to adjusting, dealing and meeting young people at the point of their need.

Organizations like IDEA Center for the Arts had to create virtual workshop lessons for their media art classes, and offer virtual dialogues to support their artist all while still hoping for a grand opening which was originally scheduled for April of 2020. The art center will soon be available to support the social, emotional and economic wellbeing of our underserved artist community.

Camden Rep began to meet nightly for ZOOM rehearsal for the upcoming production of Snow White which was scheduled to premiere in Spring and Summer of 2020. Doing so allows them to continue providing artistic structure to our students, helping to develop the script while addressing literacy and comprehension.

Camden Rep has hosted virtual stage management workshops and just completed an arranger clinic with Prince’s (Yes the one and only) musical arranger which included our high school and college students. 

So we must adjust, both IDEA Center for the Arts and Camden Rep are connecting students to technological advancements in the arts in hopes to cross the digital divide, so we can’t afford to get in the middle of the road and cry chicken little.

We tell the musician to drop the beat and shout “REEEE-MIX” while we continue to make our genre of art!

That is the role of the artists in our society. We don’t get to stop, we know we are serving a community that needs us. It's like rappers like Grandmaster Flash who rapped about it in the 80’s, P. Diddy who rapped about it in the 90s and Young Gunz who rapped about it in the 2000’s “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, So let’s get it”.

Camden Rep reiterates and lives it during COVID because of the population we serve we can only afford to continue programming in the midst of a pandemic.   

Looking at all the variables at how social media has been an outlet for us during this time of social isolation, we have been forced to turn to apps like Instagram and TikTok for entertainment and basic enjoyment.

Surprisingly it turned out that those who may not identify themselves as artists are using social media as a platform to express their creative abilities. Ironically the TikTok app is creating the next generation of sound and video engineers.

It is also showing choreographers who may be the recitals next lead. We can see a generation of film actors being born as they have been re-staging some of the best shows and films all for fun during stay at home orders all because they have tools right at their fingertips.

When you look at the data around the arts it is clear that the arts contribute a larger share of the economy than transportation, agriculture, or construction according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

A 2016 study reported that the arts and culture sector contributed $804 billion to the nation’s economy in 2016. This represents 4.3 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

What little arts Camden had to offer are left to wonder what our next steps should be. In our constant struggle to gain a foothold in a community that has never seen our value, we have found once again that the ladder has been pushed to the side, challenging us from climbing further up the rungs of our progress. 

So, we no longer can afford to sit on the sidelines and dream about our participation. We proudly step forward to say that without a doubt the arts in Camden are worth fighting for.  From now on we pledge to be at the forefront of this cause and any others.

Camden arts organizations and artists are a lot like the lotus flower. Its beauty gets overlooked because everyone keeps looking at the muddy swamp that it grows in. Right now  our mindset matters. We must come together in a creative way to lift up our community.

So we are launching an Artist Support Group and The Camden County Artist Relief Fund to ensure the ball doesn't stop rolling for artists because WE DON'T GET TO STOP.

Non-profit arts & cultural organizations, galleries, fiscally sponsored projects, independent producers, independent artists (dancer, actors, directors), productions (stagehands, designers, tech etc), are encouraged to fill out the following survey regarding the financial impact of COVID-19 on their programs.

Samir Nichols is the chief executive officer of Superior Arts, Cynthia Primas if the founder and executive director of the IDEA Center for the Arts, and Desi Shelton Seck is the founder and artistic director of the Camden Repertory Theater.