Local artists and musicians hang in there as coronavirus creates obstacles — and opportunities
It’s been more than two months since Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered residents around the state to stay home as much as possible and nonessential businesses and services to shut down to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
With art galleries and exhibits closed, concerts canceled and tours postponed indefinitely, artists and musicians might be expected to be suffering more than many.
For the most part, though, they’re actually doing OK, PB Monthly discovered.
According to Ocean Beach artist Celeste Byers (whose work can be recognized by her mural on the trailer at the Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve headquarters), the art economy in San Diego — particularly in the Pacific Beach, Point Loma and Ocean Beach communities — relies more heavily on public art, illustration, graphic design and “things you can do from your computer” than it does on galleries and selling at art shows.
“We all have been affected in little things, but for the most part, me and all my friends do a lot of freelance work or murals, which are still all happening,” Byers said.
However, a mural project Byers was supposed to be working on for the Audubon Society in France was canceled when France went into lockdown because of the coronavirus, and an online art course she was supposed to record in Spain has been postponed, although the project is still moving forward.
Artist Evan Schell focuses primarily on videography and photography. Luckily, he said, he hasn’t had to venture outside that realm. Thanks to a few projects he started at the end of 2019, he’s been continuing his artistic work and is taking time to look through old hard drives, re-share old projects and revisit those he had put aside.
Most of his local artist friends are continuing to work on their paintings, pottery, graphic designs and other projects, he said.
But that doesn’t mean artists are getting by without hardship.
Schell said his current projects have “kind of been floating me for the past couple months.”
“It’s definitely a restructuring; it’s definitely tricky right now,” he said. “I’d say I’m heavily relying on my savings.”
Paying rent is the biggest struggle overall, he added.
“Every day is different,” he said. “Some days are great, some days it’s really hard. I think it’s overwhelming thinking about too much at once.”
In an effort to support other artists, Aaron Glasson, an Ocean Beach-based artist from New Zealand, has joined the global Artist Support Pledge, initiated on Instagram by U.K. artist Matthew Burrows. Artists post images of artwork they’re willing to sell for no more than 200 euros (about $218) on social media, and with each 1,000 euros they make in sales, they pledge to buy another artist’s work for 200 euros.
“The idea is to start this online art economy,” said Glasson, who added that he’s doing well financially during the coronavirus pandemic and hasn’t lost much on his commission work. However, a mural Glasson was set to paint on the side of Red Dragon Championship Martial Arts studio on Garnet Avenue has had to be postponed indefinitely.
On a musical note
Local musicians have had to make adjustments to continue sharing their talents and making an income.
“I personally am one of the lucky ones who put a lot of my eggs into the teaching basket this year,” said San Diego musician and music teacher Lexi Pulido, vocalist in the band Kilikili and Kate Bush cover band Baby Bushka.
But not everyone is so fortunate, she said.
“My boyfriend’s in my band Kilikili and he’s primarily a performing drummer and he’s already lost 80 percent of his income, aside from the teaching he’s doing online,” Pulido said.
Many local musicians who usually make their income through live performances have been promoting online lessons to compensate for the loss of income. Others have started livestreaming performances and including their Venmo or PayPal accounts so the community can make donations or offer tips.
But “it’s nowhere near” what they’d typically make, Pulido said.
Natasha Kozaily, owner of Kalabash School of Music and the Arts on La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock, is one of many who have embraced the transition to online platforms. Along with Pulido, she is one of eight women in Baby Bushka, which before the coronavirus crisis hit had been set for a West Coast tour, followed by a tour in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The music school has lost about 30 percent to 40 percent of its clients, but people are still taking online lessons, Kozaily said.
“So far, we’re just kind of scraping by, making it happen and figuring out other creative ways to keep the spirit of the school alive,” she said.
In that vein, she took the lessons up a notch.
“When I started to do online lessons, I really wanted to make them fun because I realized everyone is depressed, especially the kids,” she said. “So, I put on pigtails and I painted my face and I put on my sequined jacket and I was like, ‘I’m gonna make this as fun as possible.’”
That’s how her character “Miss Nati” — an eccentric music teacher with a British accent — came to life.
“Students’ frowns turned to smiles,” she said.
Kozaily began recording free lessons as episodes to educate children and all viewers about music and artists such as Kate Bush and Moondog and put the videos on her website, along with activity packs and quizzes for kids. The episodes can be found at kalabasharts.com/missnati.
“It’s not making me any money, but it’s something that has given me purpose and made me feel like I have something to do during this time as a creative person and as an educator,” she said.
While many artists and musicians are performing or offering their services online, the necessity of a digital presence has presented a problem for some, Kozaily said.
“I know so many artists who are not about online stuff. It’s not for everyone — it’s not a platform that they’ve ever really been on. They’re more about the in-person, doing live shows,” Kozaily said. “So yeah, it’s hard ... for people like that. It’s almost like you’re forced to be now on this social media and everything, and if you’re not someone who is into that or someone who’s ever done that, you’re kind of left behind.”
OB resident Jesus Gonzalez, who was both a performer and barista at the Lazy Hummingbird Coffee & Tea House, which was at 4876 Santa Monica Ave. before it closed permanently at the end of 2019, is a solo musician who makes his income solely from live gigs.
Today, his livelihood comes from livestreaming his performances and including his Venmo link. That, along with the unemployment check he’s been receiving since the closure of the coffee shop.
“If it weren’t for the unemployment, I’d be not good right now because I would solely be relying on what I could make through music, which isn’t much right now,” Gonzalez said.
On the bright side, he’s taking the opportunity to record a new album, which he hasn’t done in years.
“As an artist, it’s all in your hands right now,” he said. “No one’s calling you for gigs anymore because they’re not happening. So right now’s like the perfect time to serve your fan base in the most creative ways you can.
“I think this is forcing us to be creative, and that’s really good. We’re gonna come out of this with a sense of renewal. I want to be able to come out of this thinking, ‘Wow, I used that time just right.’”
Efforts to help artists, musicians and self-employed
On April 16, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the San Diego Arts & Culture Challenge Fund, established to raise and distribute money for San Diego’s creative workforce. The fund was launched via the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition in partnership with the San Diego Foundation.
For more information or to apply for a grant, visit sandiegoracc.org/challenge.
Additionally, the California Employment Development Department launched the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help unemployed Californians who are business owners, self-employed, independent contractors or have limited work history and others not usually eligible for regular state unemployment benefits.
For more information or to file a claim, visit bit.ly/eddpuasandiego.