As COVID-19 spreads internationally and governments put restrictions into place, countless venues are canceling or postponing events and working artists everywhere are forced to take a beat. This is particularly challenging in a gig economy, and we're learning, or at least comprehending more fully, just how connected the machine is.
New Mexico declared a public health emergency and banned gatherings of more than 100 people last week. Then came news that schools would close for three weeks. Without trying to cause panic, it's mildly terrifying, and Santa Fe creators are feeling the pinch financially.
Filmmaker and videographer Kaela Waldstein, for example, lost a $3,000 job to film the Gathering of Nations' Miss Indian World competition for her Mountain Mover Media company. Funded by the city of Albuquerque's Urban Enhancement Trust Fund, Waldstein's grant contract didn't include a provision as catastrophic as a pandemic (whose does?), and any other work she might receive (or already be doing) could be imperiled.
"It's an unknown," she tells SFR. "Nobody knows how long this is going to go on."
Waldstein says she's at least a little lucky—she's a company of one and has some wiggle room. Still, she says, she can only hope her broader list of clients and other jobs help alleviate some of the sting she's feeling.
On the live music end, Geronimo Darras, crew chief for AMP Concerts, says he's spoken to friends in similar concert production jobs in other cities who are equally nervous. AMP has nixed shows through the end of the month.
"Austin shut down a week ago, Las Vegas is going down, I just heard [promotion companies] LiveNation and AEG canceled a whole bunch of tours—there's no place to go," Darras tells SFR. "This is just something that doesn't really happen. There are people buying gear, the tech for live music, people who've invested who knows how much money into their companies to be prepared for summer tours, and now they're stuck. How are they going to pay for that?"
Darras says the timing is particularly bad for communities with slower concert seasons during winter, like Santa Fe. He expected, he says, for things to be picking up, but between the cancellations and AMP Concerts recently losing out on a $25,000 Levitt AMP grant (no relation to the promotions nonprofit) it has been using effectively for the last several years, it's another issue with which to contend. All the same, Darras says, he's doing his best to take it in stride.
"I think everyone just needs to take a deep breath," he tells SFR.
Musicians Bill Palmer and Stephanie Hatfield agree, though they're both looking toward the future with apprehension.
"We've lost every gig we have on the books indefinitely," Palmer says. "This could be potentially hurtful across the board."
Palmer's lucky, though, he says. With his Bill Palmer Recording company, he can make up losses by working with musicians in a smaller, one-on-one capacity. For Hatfield's part, she's already kicking around the idea of virtual concerts live-streamed to social media with links to a virtual tip jar, the first of which could pop up soon to replace a recently canceled house show.
"But if this continues for the next several weeks," Hatfield says, "we can't expect anyone to spend money on things as frivolous as entertainment."
It's no easier for touring musicians who find themselves in other parts of the country with a slate of canceled shows. Clementine Was Right's Nicholas Quintero tells SFR from the road that the band's return home has been a "mad dash."
"It's tough coming back and facing brief unemployment due to my security company's main contract, Meow Wolf, closing temporarily," Quintero says. "I, at least, have some of my rent forwarded, but the number-crunching and stress will take its toll on me—maybe the true lethal symptom of this pandemic."
Other traveling musicians might not make it home anytime soon. Santa Fe soundscape artist Thollem McDonas, for example, is in Lisbon, Portugal, and facing a string of canceled events.
"I book all my own tours and don't get paid until I show up and play," he says. "It's literally hundreds of hours of work with no pay."
McDonas says that he does have good friends in Lisbon and plenty of time on his hands to make the most of it, but that's not always the case.
Back home, galleries are feeling stress over the potential loss of income, but according to KEEP Contemporary's Jared Antonio-Justo Trujillo, "fear and panic won't get us anywhere."
At the same time, Trujillo says he is, of course, concerned.
"We are a small business and all my artists depend on the gallery to create leads and sales," he tells SFR. "We can't just go home and hope the US government will take care of us."
Pandemic concerns have hit the local food industry as well, with restaurants and bars ordered to limit seating to half capacity. But Back Road Pizza owner Piper Kapin is staying proactive. The restaurant is one of many that has implemented a curbside pickup option for customers nervous about entering public spaces. Diners can simply order online or by phone and then call when they arrive and a healthy Back Road employee will run the pizza out to their car.
"People are stressed and, as a community business, we're just trying to figure out how we can help and make things feel more normal and a little easier," Kapin explains. "Hopefully keep our local economy going a little bit."
Perhaps the biggest industry in the state is grinding to a halt, too, with numerous film productions around the state suspending production for at least the next two weeks according to actor and film worker Braden Anderson.
"I've never seen production shut down by anything, and I've already gotten three notices of push-backs or cancellations," Anderson says. "As far as I can tell, everything is taking a break right now, which is huge for the industry—we're talking millions of dollars."
The state Department of Workforce Solutions has adopted special unemployment contingencies, including waiving the provision that those on unemployment must actively search for work while receiving benefits. This really only applies to hourly employees, however, and not the self-employed or contract workers—like musicians and artists.
"Self-employed folks are not able to get into our system," says Bill McCamley, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. "If you're a contractor and you're going without work, unemployment is unfortunately not available. We are going to be obviously exploring some options over the next week or two to figure out what we can do to help. We don't know what those are yet."
Read SFR's list of cancellations here.