The COVID-19 Diaries: Art of Unemployment

In late March, my position with regional arts council CNY Arts was eliminated. No, the position wasn’t furloughed. Nor was the parting on negative terms.

Regarding the looming presence of COVID-19, this ordeal was asymptomatic. Whether or not this ugly disease was a direct driving force behind this matter or sat back similarly, inactively as bespectacled eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, is to be speculated. There are consequences when an organization takes a hit during a time of local, statewide, national, and global emergency, and especially hits hard when it’s personal.

Being one of the several statewide nonprofit arts and culture organizations in New York, the bread and butter purpose is to take funding from Onondaga County and New York funding (via New York State Council on the Arts) and help fund artists, arts and culture nonprofits, and arts educators in the six-county region CNY Arts covers.

In short: Fund the arts.

In the grand scheme: Help the arts (people and organizations) grow and build to present more offerings. In doing so, these people and entities will appeal to more (dedicated and new) people, plus bring in more local, regional, out-of-state, and Canadian and other international patrons. When the organization grows, they’ll be able to build capacity, employ more people. As a result, hotel stays will increase. Occupancy taxes do help the arts. Longer and frequent stays for traveling artists or visiting patrons positively affect local restaurants and local businesses. And, in a perfect world, all these businesses will grow, expand, and hire more people.

Still, this is simply skimming the surface. Even adding the fact CNY Arts offers a free online entertainment calendar, holiday show Dasher’s Magical Gift for families and their children, and celebrates creative individuals in non-arts workplaces with On My Own Time — this Syracuse-based workhorse is more complex.

I’m not a fan of mall Destiny USA. History of screwing the city aside and although the sixth-largest monument of consumerism in the States and a beast for employment opportunities, visitors aren’t going to be bragging about the kitchen item they found at Williams-Sonoma as much as the serving board purchased at Wildflowers Armory or glass vase Mixed Methods. Forget the burger at TGI Fridays and go for flavorful, beefier options from Angry Garlic, Bull & Bear Roadhouse, or Ale ‘n’ Angus Pub.

In order for a city, county, or region to grow, people need to visit and spend. In order for them to visit, revisit, and settle — they must be entertained. My mother always reiterated to me growing up: If you’re bored, you’re probably boring. Thankfully, Central New York is not boring.

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Arts and culture will always present — theaters, galleries, symphonies, zoos, historic sites, parks. Can’t have restaurants without culinary arts and even diner fare has its own flare. Sports, despite based on endurance, skill, timing, and physics, are artistic in their own right. There is an art to a swing, making a quick stop and turning on skates, and the trajectory of any ball.

Although sports are year-round, they are affected by seasons. Onondaga and Oneida Counties cannot rely respectively on the Crunch and the Comets — which may be the biggest teams in the region — to bring people in year-round. As much as people debate it, Syracuse University isn’t the golden entity despite giving us (the community that is, which supports them immensely) a football team that refuses to back down, a wavering men’s and a consistent women’s basketball teams, and lacrosse teams that sit in the shadows of the aforementioned. The newly named Syracuse Mets didn’t choose to play in a poorly placed stadium but games prove to be wonderful and affordable outings for everyone.

Yet those races people complain about, whether they can’t participate or have a temporary issue accessing a blocked off street, bring visitors in. The IRONMAN 70.3 that used to take place in Jamesville, the Mountain Goat in Syracuse, and the Boilermaker in Utica bring people in from all over the globe.

A region cannot rely on each of these entities or active niches to bring in the major bucks. It’s teamwork and a great support system. Empty stadiums and theatres are painful to consider. When a team isn’t doing so hot, the community is reluctant to step foot in whichever facility it is — sad but true. This whole COVID-19 thing really screwed the pooch. It’s an unexpected flipping of the game board. It’s a deliberate pressing of the reset button on a game console. Support the teams and venues as best as you can with memberships, season tickets, and merch purchases.

Concerts and club dates are year-round. Yes, the biggest names come to St. Joseph’s Lakeview Ampitheatre. They also visit CMAC, SPAC, Darien Lake, and other facilities that support Live Nation shows. The smaller facilities — the gems of the region, in my opinion: Center for the Arts of Homer, Funk n Waffles, The Haunt, Lost Horizon, Nelson Odeon, Oneida Community House Mansion, Oswego Music Hall, Unity Hall, The Stanley, and Wesctott Theater among several others — they’re beautiful, offering unique local, regional, national, and international artists. Plus, promoters like KMase Productions and After Dark Presents really dive in and promote these musicians.

Don’t forget all the restaurants with or without bars that support local musicians, offering shows throughout the week in the fairer seasons and on packing weekends year-round.

Please continue to support the arts, whether it’s an artist — you can always find something you’re looking for locally and instead of some unknown distributors schlepping live-laugh-love cookie-cutter online shit stuff . (Yes, there are plenty of people selling the same wares on Etsy, Amazon, and the like.) Be mindful and get artists through this tough time so you can see them in the next chapter. Or exercise your creative side.

Yes, this is a time to be mindful of spending. I encourage donating and supporting at your own discretion. Where there is leeway in a budget, don’t shy from helping out. When this major hump is over and doors reopen, it’ll be comforting to enjoy these offerings again.

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