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Karamu House, Marietta Mural Street mural project, Toledo Symphony Orchestra

The Arts: Our Rock

As we wrapped up 2020, I reflected on all we accomplished, all we worked through, all we cried about, and all we changed for the good. I inventoried disappointments, victories, feelings, and hopes. But to be honest, after taking stock of last year, I had a revelation—I just feel tired. (This kind of acknowledgement is healthy, right?!)

Why so tired? Without a doubt, the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic weighs me down daily—like it does for so many of us. My inventory process got me thinking of those who have suffered loss in 2020, and already in 2021. More than 10,000 Ohioans have lost their lives to COVID-19; many have lost family members, friends, and colleagues; others have lost jobs and healthcare; and others have had their dreams cut short due to shutdowns and closures. 

I also must admit that I miss actually seeing all of you. I miss seeing the behind the scenes work that goes into a concert or exhibition. I miss sitting down, sharing a cup of coffee, and talking about your future plans and strategies for getting there. A few of our outreach efforts, Ohio Arts Beacon and ArtsChat Ohio, have brought us personal connections to highlight artists across the state and programs for arts education. I encourage you to check them out.

As I’ve talked with folks, many are experiencing mental and emotional tiredness, but I’m not sure they’ve realized it fully. When our conversations dig a little deeper—beyond the pleasantries, to get to a personal truth—sometimes there are tears, but more often than not our conversation turns to how to build one another up and keep peer-to-peer support utmost in our minds and actions. One of the best things about having a career in the arts is being surrounded by solution-minded creatives. We are all focused on the future, striving toward the shared success of an arts organization or a career as an artist thriving in a new environment. And so, we have been able to remind ourselves that our mental and physical health are the foundation from which everything else flows. I can only imagine how tired we would all be without the arts.

If you are feeling disconnected, I urge you to reach out. We are here for you, and we know you are here for us.

I’ll end on this. On a Sunday morning television show I heard the phrase: “COVID casualty versus COVID catalyst.” In this instance, the word “casualty” was not about the many lost lives due to COVID-19, but the next order effects—shuttered businesses, failing nonprofits (arts and otherwise). It’s the second part of the phrase, COVID catalyst, that piqued my interest—our human ability to find the silver linings out of our bleak present.

It immediately made me think of arts leaders like Becky Keck at SMARTS in Youngstown. She and her team could have closed their doors last March and went home. Instead, the SMARTS team used COVID-19 as a catalyst to find new ways to serve the children for whom they provide arts education. Astoundingly, they found a way to hire more arts teachers. Their services are reaching more children than ever before. SMARTS is providing services in-person (safely), virtually, and in a hybrid manner with schools. There are dozens and dozens of arts organizations who have used the pandemic as a catalyst to improve their business strategies, further develop outreach programs, consider cost-saving measures, and use digital technologies to successfully program for audiences—not just in their community but around the world.

The idea left me hopeful, rejuvenated—a little less tired. I encourage you to take your own inventory of successes, opportunities, losses, and growth. Consider how a tragic pandemic of epic proportions can be a catalyst for you and your work. What light remains as we finally spot the possible end of the tunnel?

My team and I have jobs we love and that fact is not lost on us—we know we are lucky. We are also fortunate to be on a mission and working on behalf of artists, arts organizations, and nonprofits who deliver the arts. While we continue to work remotely, our connections, resources, and delivery of programming has only gotten stronger. The pandemic allowed us to look at how we serve.

I believe in the power of the arts. I believe that our arts and cultural leaders are the smartest and most creative people in Ohio. In 2020 our motto was, “the arts are better when we work together,” and that will always be true. 

Until we meet again, may the arts remain our rock. Here’s to a brighter 2021!

Donna S. Collins signature

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured images: Karamu House, photo by Kayla Lupean; Marietta Main Street mural project, photo courtesy of Marietta Main Street Public Art Committee; Toledo Symphony Orchestra.

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