Like an octopus of immense proportions, the coronavirus pandemic has stretched its tentacles into every aspect of our daily lives—private and public, social and professional.
The deluge of business closures and the cancellation of events to prevent the disease’s spread sprang up suddenly, crippling many people’s ability to make a living. Their numbers include the visual artists who depend upon Southwest Florida many art festivals during “the season” for a significant portion of their income.
“It’s part of their lifeline,” said Priscilla MacDonald of Marco, who is one of the chief organizers of the monthly Left Bank Art Fest shows the Marco Island Foundation for the Arts holds primarily at the Esplanade Shoppes during the season. “These shows are basically are the only way most artists make a living.”
MIFA cancelled the final show for March and the April show due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Very few have jobs during the week,” added MacDonald. “Most, 100% of their income is these art shows. This is just a devastating blow to them because not only did we cancel, but most art shows across the state.”
For the last 12 years, the Left Bank Art Fest has enabled up to 25 artists to display and sell their wares at the Esplanade and on occasion, at the YMCA of South Collier – Marco. MacDonald and her son Tyler, a photographer and guitar maker, have been the juried art show’s organizers for the last 10 years.
“The closures have occurred when the state’s peak art show season was winding down,” she said. “We’re lucky this didn’t happen until the end of March. So all the artists did get through October and part of March, which is really the busiest part of the Florida art show season.”
The speed with which the landscape changed was an absolute shock for Jay Andrew Lensink, the creative force behind J. Andrew Designs Handcrafted Fine Silver Jewelry. The Estero resident and his wife Ricki have been a presence at Left Bank and other local art shows for a decade.
Most of the art shows the Lensinks participate in each year are on Marco or in Naples. The couple spared few words in describing the effect of the cancellations.
“It could be devastating because we’ll have no income,” remarked Jay Lensink.
His wife said, “Most of us put in out applications way in advance and we have art shows every week. What happened is not only do you have loss of income because there’s no show, but it’s total devastation.”
Rickie Lensink said some art shows haven’t been returning artist deposits after cancelling events, further darkening the immediate financial picture for artists. “Most, like Left Bank, have returned 100% of the money,” she added.
“Others are returning 60% to 80%, depending on how much the promoter has already invested in the show,” said Jay Lensink.
“We’re going to all have to get together to see if we can get some help from the government to keep us alive,” Jay Lensink said of his fellow artists. “There are some organizations that are getting together to lobby the politicians in the area to get some aid that would help.”
For painter Tara O’Neill of Goodland, the economic impact of this situation on artists and others who are affected has her in panic attack mode.
“It’s not like I think I’m in this alone,” she said. “But for this one little artist, my last nine events have been cancelled and those are the events that would have supported me all summer when I do all my painting.”
O’Neill takes part in 30 to 35 shows a year, including Left Bank and the Marco Island Farmers Market.
“You start making money in November and you’re paying for all the materials and inventory you’re ordered, and then these last two months are when we make all the money that’s going to support us,” she explained. “That applies to artists, musicians and people who work in restaurants. We don’t have any golden parachutes. We don’t have sick leave. We don’t have paid time off. I can’t think of anyone in these kinds of businesses that I don’t feel sorry for. This is like an Economic Armageddon.”
The Lensinks said some art show promoters are turning to online shows as an alternative. “Online, of course, the sales are nothing compared to the live, outdoor shows. We’re going to try that and see if it helps.”
MacDonald said MIFA will be using its Facebook page as an online marketplace to present artists’ work to the public. Other than that, she said, the future is unclear. “There’s really not much we can do other than pray, pray that it passes quickly and that we can get back on track”.
For more information about the Marco Island Foundation for the Arts, visit www.marcoislandfoundation.org or call 239-389-0280. For more information about Tara O’Neill’s creations, visit www.taraogallery.com/home. For more information about J. Andrew Designs Handcrafted Fine Silver Jewelry, visit www.etsy.com/shop/metalmedia.