Since the dawn of the ages, art has been used to preserve culture and to push thoughts past the imagination in ways that both awe and inspire. And artists, since that time, and even today, are often thought of as revered timekeepers and masters of creating pieces that spark social commentary. This time, as we face a crisis (the COVID-19 Pandemic), within a crisis (global economic downturn), within a crisis (civil unrest due to racial discrimination) art and its artists are here to force us to think and remind us of what is happening to us as a collective at this time. In many ways, the artwork over the last few months has been a not so gentle reminder that we are not alone, and has allowed us to think of the current situation in novel ways; in some instances, it has provided a much-needed escape from the humdrum that we are all going through as we stay home. But this time, the artists themselves are in an unfortunate predicament and the ability to create has been heavily impacted by a variety of socio-economic constraints. Does this mean that the future of art has been jeopardised? On the surface, it doesn’t seem so.
Like artists around the globe, the pandemic alone has had a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of Dominican creatives. Many are full-time artists and have lost their sole source of income. “My biggest fear currently,” started Chase Lawrence, a popular artist from the north of the island, “is that the economic fallout from the pandemic leads to art purchases being placed on the back burner since disposable incomes could drop significantly during and after the pandemic.” Apart from the economic fallout and the impact it has had on securing materials artists are also concerned about how they will fare out if a natural disaster strikes during the pandemic. “We have hurricane season right around the corner, and while we’re currently battling the economic setbacks of COVID, we had only just picked ourselves up from [Hurricane] Maria. A chain of back to back disasters could be potentially crippling,” Michael Lees, a visual artist, and filmmaker explained.
But despite the obvious challenges, the artists have responded with creative resolve. Last month, the Waitukubuli Artist Association (WAA), a local art group supporting artists with diverse artistic capabilities, hosted its CoronaVirus Art Challenge, prompting the creation of astonishing pieces reflective of the times. “The creative mind does not stop for COVID,” said Carol Sorhaindo, a member of WAA. Instead, as we have seen, it stretches us to explore our potential and makes allowances to discover new things in familiar places. It is during these unfortunate times that the diversity of art is truly acknowledged. Suddenly it becomes true that art can be as simple as the shapes formed as mist rises from asphalt on a rainy day to something as intricate as Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
President of WAA, Lowell ‘OMtNI’ Royer, an artist who dabbles in multiple mediums including tattooing, painting, wood art and his Såñd series in which he uses cement and resin to create mini dioramas, admitted that since patrons have been forced to reevaluate their expenditure, the demand for artistic expertise has decreased, but the overall love and need for art remains.
Though he is hopeful for the continued patronage of art in Dominica he expressed his biggest fear “is that the public may stop realizing that art is an essential part of their wellbeing. There’s no heart without art, so the world may become a pretty dull and woeful place.”
Ray Francis, winner of the WAA CoronaVirus Art Challenge, was quite adamant that it is up to the artists themselves and genuine art lovers to keep the flame alive. Ray, also a teacher by profession, mentioned that though this current situation has closed many doors for him, the good thing was realising how easily he can lose a job which he has no control over. More so, his maximised artistic productivity has made him realise how sometimes closed doors can be a good thing. “It [the pandemic] opened my eyes even more into seeing that having a regular job is more like slavery and I have no use for it anymore.”
As Ray indicated, the success of any artist does not hang in the balance of socio-political or even economic will. The success of any artist is based on their drive and sheer determination. In the words of A. Thea, a versatile artist whose abilities branch out to wood carving and pottery, “this pandemic allowed creative thinkers to do their job in propelling the world forward”. Besides responding to the pandemic traditionally, they are also joining the wider community to prepare for life after lockdown. Some artists are working silently during the shutdown undergoing projects for business owners who are preparing to re-open their institutions.
So, artists, even in the face of their fears and challenges, are surviving this crisis and in many ways have reminded us of what it truly means to be an artist. And it is so much more than being able to create something “pretty”. Rather, artists are persons who channel the energy from their surroundings to create something powerful, impactful, and unique that often influences the lives of thousands, even amidst hard times.