When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold early last year, artists such as Patricia Boyer of Charlotte, North Carolina, were panic-stricken. Who would see — not to mention purchase — her creations when much of America was on lockdown?
“It was really bad, because here you are with all this art, and you’re like ‘what am I going to do with it?’,” the 65-year-old painter told VOA. “And the anxiety level was through the roof.”
Amid a severe economic downturn and restricted in-person interactions, artists were forced to get creative. Boyer, who specializes in acrylic on canvas, said she was able to display some of her art with the help of friends and colleagues.
“I now have my inventory in three different spaces — one of my friends got me in her gallery. So, it’s a way for me to get my name out,” Boyer said.
Artists have faced unprecedented challenges triggered by the pandemic. Data published by the National Endowment for the Arts show, from 2019 to 2020, unemployment rates more than tripled for fine artists like Boyer and surpassed 50% for many types of performing artists.
Among major U.S. economic sectors, creative industries were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, second only to the hospitality sector.
Arts scene reemerges in Charlotte
After more than a year of gloom, artists recently had cause to rejoice. Last weekend saw the resumption of Festival in the Park, a showcase of artisans and artwork Charlotte has held every year since 1964 — except last year.
The event draws a wide variety of artists and entrepreneurs, including photographers, ceramists, jewelers, bakers, carpenters, tattoo artists and puppeteers.
“I love coming out here and meeting so many people,” Boyer said between conversations with clients. “This is the best thing that’s happened in a long time for me. I look at all these people and I am just in awe that people are coming out to support us artists during COVID.”
Signs remain of the toll the pandemic has taken on artists. VOA spoke with Haydar Serezli, a jeweler based in Atlanta. He pointed to a drop in vendor attendance compared with pre-pandemic festivals.
“It’s a little different this year,” said Serezli, who has been displaying work at Festival in the Park since 2011.“The amount of people coming, that’s stayed the same. But the vendors, many artists, we’ve known them for years, didn’t come.”
The event drew 130 vendors this year, down from an average of 180 in previous years.
“For us (Serezli and his wife), the pandemic didn’t affect us as badly. But for many artists around here, it wasn’t as easy for them. So, I hope some of them can come back around next year,” Haydari told VOA.
Renewal after 2020
“The biggest challenge was scaling it back,” said David Dalton, who has served on the festival’s board of directors for 30 years.
Even so, Dalton pointed to a sense of jubilation at the event.
“Look at this crowd here,” Dalton remarked, gesturing at festivalgoers. “You can tell everyone’s been penned up.”
Dalton added, “It’s an entirely outdoor event, but we’re still doing what we can for COVID (precautions).”
Hand sanitizer stands dotted the grounds, and the Mecklenburg County Public Health Department staffed a booth to distribute pamphlets with tips for preventing coronavirus transmission.
Signs were placed throughout the park urging mask-wearing, although relatively few attendees were seen with face coverings.
Charlotte resident Jason Norvell said he has attended the past six festivals.
“Personally, I’m vaccinated so I’m not really worried about being out in public. It’s great weather, so we thought, ‘hey let’s come out and have a nice evening,’” Norvell told VOA. “I think, frankly, so many people are kind of fed up with being cooped up, and so they want excuses to go to activities.”
“It felt so nice to attend this year,” said Hayley Schnackenberg, who grew up in Charlotte and works remotely as a technology consultant.
“Some of the best memories I have as a kid” were from going to the festival, she added. “There’d be dancers from local schools or local theaters and those were some of the things that I felt were missing [this year].”