Guest Commentary: Time for Care 

As we settle into a troubling period, remember to support your local arts and culture organizations however you can.

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This week the crisis of COVID-19 hit home for all of us. Richmond is now experiencing the panic and confusion that has been sweeping across the globe. Like many of our city’s arts and cultural organizations, Studio Two Three has raced to make a conscientious plan for the safety of our community.

Our plan includes the cancellation of all public events and classes for the foreseeable future. This will help flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable members of our community. We know that it is the right thing to do. We also know that it will have a significant detrimental impact on our earned income and ability to meet our monthly expenses. This stunning reality — shared by many of our peers, sent us searching for emergency resources available to our field. Spoiler alert: There are few.

Novelist and critic Susan Sontag once noted, wherever people feel safe, they will be indifferent. And boy, we have been guilty of this safe indifference. Just last week, we watched as the coronavirus swept across Italy, impacting the lives of millions. It was alarming and yet distant, just like the initial outbreak in China. In 2020, our media — particularly in a primary season — can drag any reasonable person into a sea of fear and dread. So at some point we tuned out and retreated into the safety and security of our work, our families and our friends.

Last week in Richmond, winter had ended and we felt rejuvenated by flowers blooming and longer days. In the midst of others’ crisis, we continued with our plans, preparing for a big season of community events, art classes, field trips and workshops. This week it’s become clear that those plans are no longer possible.

Arts organizations like ours exist to build and sustain healthy societies. In Richmond and the Tri-Cities area alone, the arts provide upwards of $8.2 million in total economic impact. Local artists contribute to the unique cultural identity of our city, bolstering neighborhood vitality and inspiring a sense of belonging. Arts and culture make our communities thrive.

Yet sadly, unlike Wall Street, our industry’s losses won’t be met with substantial federal aid. Instead, we must use our creative ingenuity and the deep investment of our community to build a path forward. So, how do we do it? What are we to do now?

We are urging our community to support their local arts and cultural organizations and workers in any way you can. Buy a gift card from your favorite locally owned restaurant or purchase a piece of art from a local artist. If you’ve purchased a ticket to a concert, event or class that’s been canceled, consider making the cost of that ticket a donation to the event host or organization. Thinking of making a donation to Studio Two Three or another community based arts organization? Please do, now is the most effective time to honor a pledge you’ve made either in your heart or on paper to the nonprofits that you count on and love.

Most important, please take care of yourselves, your friends, family and neighbors. We look forward to a new spring in our vibrant city after this season of fear and disruption. Thank you. We are all in this together.

We in no way wish to downplay the immediate and terrifying impacts of this crisis. While we feel the tension of this moment, we’re also aware of our great privilege.

Our hearts go out to all of the workers who stand to be most impacted by this emergency and to all of the families who are struggling to address a lack of child care and immediate health care needs.

Please take care of yourselves and your community however you can.

Ashley Hawkins is co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Studio Two Three. She can be reached at ashley@studiotwothree.org.


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