As we continue to report on the dire impact that COVID-19 has had on the arts and cultural sector, one question that frequently comes up at Americans for the Arts is: What can be done to prevent this from ever happening again?
I won’t attempt to tackle that question in this blog post, but I will be discussing some of the lived experiences of artists and creative workers that emphasize the need for building an infrastructure where artists and creative workers can thrive.
Unstable Housing and Food Insecurity
Artists and creative workers are experiencing a housing crisis because of COVID-19. 32 percent of respondents report that they have been faced with the threat of eviction in 2020, 7 percent report being evicted, and 11 percent have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. White women are the most severely affected, with 14 percent experiencing homelessness since the pandemic began.
Additionally, more than half (52 percent) of respondents have been unable to access or afford food at some point in the pandemic. The percentage is even higher for disabled BIPOC respondents (63 percent).
Limited Access to Healthcare
Artists and creative workers lack affordable healthcare for themselves and their dependents, with 43 percent of respondents not visiting a medical professional because of being unable to pay.
The percentage was higher for BIPOC respondents (46 percent) than white respondents (37 percent), and highest for Black, Indigenous, women of color (48 percent).
In addition, 27 percent of all respondents have been unable to pay for necessary medication for themselves or their dependents during the pandemic. Disabled BIPOC respondents were most severely affected (38 percent), significantly higher than disabled white respondents (13 percent).
There’s a similar lack of access to mental health care (44 percent), which is especially troubling given that 3 out of 4 respondents report experiencing trouble sleeping including insomnia and chronic tiredness.
One line of inquiry we’ve pursued in our research is what are the pre-conditions that affected the ability of artists and creative workers to weather this crisis.
An example from our survey is that prior to the pandemic, 32 percent of respondents reported being the sole primary caregiver for family members. This labor was more likely to fall on women (33 percent) than men (27 percent), particularly in BIPOC respondents (33 percent of Black, Indigenous, women of color compared with 23 percent of Black, Indigenous, men of color).
In open-ended responses, respondents mentioned the loss of income and opportunities associated with taking care of family members. One respondent who reports raising over 40 children, including their own and those of relatives and close friends, says:
“I never really gained any income from raising all my children. I had to become the financer, the help, the sitter and raiser so it would come out just right for all of them.”
Another respondent said that years of caring for family members in the past meant that they were unable to develop additional skills to take advantage of other employment opportunities.
Once again, our survey findings shed light on the hardships that artists and creative workers are facing. It’s important to note, however, that many of these conditions have existed long prior to the pandemic. We must work to dismantle the systems that have allowed these conditions to continue and rebuild anew to create a better future for artists and creative workers in this country.
Look out for the last post in this series where I’ll share findings on the creative impact of the pandemic on artists and creative workers.