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How COVID-19 Changed Local Arts

Cover image for podcast episode

CREDIT: TIM MAYS

Above: San Diego band Scary Pierre performs to an empty venue at the Casbah on July 25, 2020. The performance was livestreamed for free on Twitch.

A special edition of KPBS Roundtable discusses the impact of COVID-19 on local arts, from the cancellation of big events to the pandemic's influence on artistic expression.

Speaker 1: 00:01 Comecon went online. Life theater and concerts have ceased TV and movie productions were halted, but like life in Jurassic park, artists, performers and producers have found a way a special look at how arts and culture are fairing across San Diego. In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I'm Mark Sauer and the KPBS round table starts. Now

Speaker 2: 00:29 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:33 Welcome to our special holiday week edition of the round table. I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me on this remote broadcast today are KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Huck. Amando Julia Dixon Evans, the editor and producer of the KPBS arts calendar and Tim piles, DJ at 91 X and host of the local music show loudspeaker. The COVID 19 pandemic has been the major disruptor of our time. It's all encompassing taking a quarter of a million American lives and changing the fundamentals of our society. And that includes places. We go for an escape movie theaters are closed, big events that people Mark in their calendars have vanished. So this week we're dedicating our show to arts and culture, how it changed in 2020 and what it might look like if and when the virus subsides. Our first guest is Beth Huck, Amando arts and culture reporter for KPBS. Beth. Welcome back to the round table. Thanks. Well, let's start with San Diego's biggest event for the first time in its history. Comic-Con was canceled. What's the outlook for Comicon returning in 2021?

Speaker 3: 01:36 Well, there are very cautious organizations, so they have not made any decisions at this point about whether they plan to do an in-person event or continue doing something online, but they have the Comicon museum, which is continuing to do online programming this whole time. And we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Speaker 1: 01:57 And like so many events this year, the pop culture showcase went virtual with a robust slate of online content. Uh, now that some time has passed or organizers pleased with how that went and cause some of that for format be part of the future Comicons if things do get back to normal.

Speaker 3: 02:13 Yeah, I think everyone was pretty pleased with what happened. Uh, I got to see more panels than I have ever seen before because once they went online, they stayed there for a while and you were able to catch up with them like in the evening. And I think everyone was really happy with it. And the great thing is, is that smaller panels really had the ability to reach more people because people weren't choosing between waiting in line all day for hall H and checking in on a small comics panel or something. And I think as they move forward, they will probably try to incorporate online panels in some way, shape or form, but that's still yet to be determined,

Speaker 1: 02:50 Maybe some sort of a new amalgam and all the,

Speaker 3: 02:53 Yeah, I think so it was very successful and it was really enjoyable to check out some of these on topics that, you know, I would never have had time to go and sit in and wait in line for them and fit. As many as I did in

Speaker 1: 03:08 Part of your coverage for KPBS is film. And we should remind our audience of your cinema junkie podcast. San Diego is a healthy film scene with a variety of festivals. How did those change during this year?

Speaker 3: 03:19 Wow, this was a crazy year because the San Diego Latino film festival had to cancel the day of its opening night because that was the day that the governor declared that, you know, in person meetings couldn't happen. So they were the first to have to juggle all that in a very short span of time to try and figure out what to do. I think all the festivals have really adapted well. Uh, I'd like to highlight too. I think that the Italian film festival did a fabulous job of creating something that was ongoing through the year where they would screen a film during the week and then do a zoom discussion on the Sunday after. And because it was a zoom event, they could have filmmakers from Italy appear and talk to their attendees. And it was a really great way to transition from that in-person event to something online. And then I have to give some props to the Asian film festival for some of the most innovative programming, because they did some, they did their mystery Kung Fu theater as a live Twitch event. And they also created some pop-up drive in events and they did some crazy stuff with a projector running 16 millimeter film on Twitch wall. You know, people got to choose which film ran. I mean, they just did some really fun, clever stuff that engage the audience in different ways.

Speaker 1: 04:42 So necessity is the mother of invention after all. Now, aside from logistics and moving online and moving content online, there's a financial toll. Are these organizations really hurting by not hosting big events?

Speaker 3: 04:53 Yeah. I mean, they're hurting by not hosting the events they're used to because you know, people are used to paying money to get a pass, to go see all these films. Now things are online, it feels different. Is it as exclusive? Is it as interactive? Is it as personal? Um, so you know, these festivals are the main way that a lot of these organizations get their money. And so this has been a huge impact on them. And they're competing now with everything. I mean, it's not just, are you going to go to the San Diego, Latino film festival, but are you going to go to the Latino festival here in San Diego? Or are you going to attend, maybe Tribeca is doing something online or you know, something in LA or San Francisco. So you're competing with a far broader range of, you know, events because people can access so much online from anywhere

Speaker 1: 05:47 And Hollywood isn't immune, of course, to COVID-19 a major movie theater chains, smaller independents been closed most of the year, some are talking about not coming back and releases have slowed down considerably is Hollywood in trouble as this drags on.

Speaker 3: 06:02 It's a complicated thing because not only are they in trouble, if the theater chains don't open, but they're in trouble because they're going to run out of product. If they can't start production up again. So running out of content is going to be an issue for them. And, you know, it's, it's just difficult. They don't want to release some of their big, expensive films online or streaming because they may not be able to make the money back. And also people feel like those were the kinds of films you want to see on a big screen. And if they release them now, you know, theaters open up six months or something, people may not be willing to spend money a second time to see it on a big screen. So it's a lot of gambling and trying to figure out what is going to be the best way for us to showcase our product. And what's the best way for us to make the money back. And what's the best way to reach an audience and keep them satisfied so that when theaters do open, they're going to be willing to come back.

Speaker 1: 06:59 And right, we've been talking about the shift in how people are consuming content and pandemic. It's accelerating the push to digital and streaming platform big year for Netflix and others after all is a, is that the silver lining in all this

Speaker 3: 07:12 Interesting thing is, is that because so much stuff is going streaming, it does allow for smaller films to really reach an audience because people are looking for, they're looking for entertainment and they're looking for new stuff and they're looking for new content. Hollywood's had a couple, had some successes. The trolls world tour was one of the first ones to go streaming online. And it raked in a ton of money, but Milan was less successful in that streaming format. It's kind of crazy out there and, and a bit chaotic, but, um, I think people are definitely turning to streaming platforms and becoming more accustomed to seeing films there. So people who might have never used a streaming platform may have tested it out during the pandemic and may feel comfortable with it and may want to stay with that as opposed to going out to a cinema.

Speaker 1: 08:02 And finally, what's your takeaway and talking with artists and creators this year, what kind of toll is the pandemic taken on a mentally it's taken a toll on all of us, of course. And has that affected or influenced their art?

Speaker 3: 08:13 Oh, it definitely has influenced their art. I mean, I think the thing that is really inspirational from all of this is how artists have adapted and some of the creativity that has come out of this is just amazing. Uh, some of the without walls events that, um, the LA Jolla Playhouse has done have been phenomenal. And, uh, you know, I've done some stories on, um, some national shows like there's a one mythic quest that did a fabulous, uh, pandemic episode where everybody's shot in their own homes and they combined it all in this kind of, you know, zoom environment. There is also, shutter has done a couple of interesting films too was called host. And it's all done within the confines of a 40 minute zoom event. And it's a supernatural thriller, but you know, artists are really coming up with clever ways to deal with the limitations. And I think on a certain level limitations and restrictions inspire artists and really get them to dig deep, to find ways to do what they want to do without the tools and things that they're used to. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 09:25 Well, we'll see what 2021 brings because it's been a rough year all the way around, even with some silver linings along the way. I've been speaking with Beth Huck, Amando arts and culture reporter for KPBS and the host of the cinema junkie podcast. Thanks a lot, Beth. Thank you. The cancellation of big events like Comecon rightfully drew headlines this year, but in the art galleries, dance studios and museums across San Diego County, the losses are staggering, nearly $100 million in lost revenue. According to one recent study, artists have found work arounds and new ways to showcase their talent, but it's tough to replace that in-person creative exchange that enriches our community. Joining us to talk about COVID nineteens effect on creative and performing arts is Julia Dickson Evans editor and producer of the KPBS arts calendar. Hi Julia. Thanks for having me. Well, you recently reported on the details about this local study in the arts community and the business impact of the pandemic. What stands out to you from this?

Speaker 4: 10:23 Yeah. So this study it's from the non-profit Institute and university of San Diego and San Diego's commission for arts and culture. For me, it's just how widespread the impact is. We're seeing like 95% of organizations reporting a loss of revenue, seeing the data like that, really spotlights just how impossible and broad this is and that bigger nonprofits like these major institutions, they're struggling as much as the smaller ones. In fact, the larger nonprofits are laying off or furloughing workers at a slightly higher rate even. Yeah,

Speaker 1: 10:54 Yeah. Just no way to prepare for this. Nobody had seen anything like it,

Speaker 4: 10:57 Right, right. This is it's unprecedented in many ways.

Speaker 1: 11:01 Now some art lends itself to going virtual. Other disciplines really need to be seen in person, uh, which disciplines or organizations have been able to make that transition.

Speaker 4: 11:10 So one of the authors of the study had said that smaller organizations had an easier time transitioning possibly with less overhead going on. But for the most part, it's the type of programming that makes the difference. So workshops and classes or conferences were more likely to transition online, less likely to be canceled, then say performances or visual art exhibitions. And I, I think part of that might have something to do with how we had this big movement as a society for learning new skills or finding something to do with your time at the start of the pandemic.

Speaker 1: 11:42 On the other hand, which disciplines have a harder time taking their work online?

Speaker 4: 11:46 Yeah. So performing arts in general have struggled with that for sure. And we saw a of theater companies getting zoom plays out right away and dance companies doing dance films, but even if they had a platform or a way of reaching their audiences, the performers struggled to get together safely, uh, particularly with choirs were singing is so much more dangerous and it's pretty impossible to sing together on zoom. And then you have to question how people will tune in if this virtual platform will meet their needs as a consumer and what they're willing to pay for it. Moxie theater had told me that their audience generally the virtual audience has about a quarter of what it used to be and that because it's on a screen and the people are home, they're more likely to only want to pay about the same as a movie ticket versus a theater ticket.

Speaker 1: 12:38 Right? The revenue has really dried up for a lot of these folks and the pandemic has appended that for many driving them out of their jobs, how is that particularly true for women in the yard?

Speaker 4: 12:48 Yeah, the, the U S Bureau of labor statistics has said that women are leaving the general workforce at about four times the rate of men. And partly because of juggling responsibilities of distance learning, if their parents, the issue is pretty complex overall. But, uh, Jennifer Eve, thorn of Moxie theater told me that she's seeing the women in the arts industry may actually be worse off because they were already likely underpaid. And their career in that industry already was likely struggling.

Speaker 1: 13:18 And there's a ripple effect in the economy. These artistic organizations are often nonprofits that rely on donations and those who can still give, might be more compelled to give to a food bank or other charities, since there's so much need out there. How has the pandemic created almost a competition for philanthropy?

Speaker 4: 13:36 They're seeing about 50% of donors changing their giving patterns. So they're giving to those places, like you said, with more immediate needs. And, um, what this means for nonprofits is places are having to work harder to find foundations or funds that support them, or find ways to collaborate on or work on projects that are more social justice minded, and that can get them in that space too.

Speaker 1: 14:03 Just take a moment to talk about the mental toll of the pandemic and how that's affected artists and their work. How are these stressful times influencing the content that these artists are creating? I can imagine post pandemic, we may see plays and all sorts of writing about the pandemic and living through it and the psychological toll. Right?

Speaker 4: 14:22 And I think a lot of artists ran with the free time or the lack of distractions, but I've talked to so many artists who said at first they couldn't make art at all. And in some cases that stuck around, so many people have said this, that the death of George Floyd and the racial justice protests really pushed them into action. So a lot of the art that we're seeing made has had an element of, of social justice and nature, but for others like performing artists, such as dancers particular, I think there's a real athletic element at play. So like the feel of the right kind of floor under your feet or the act of performing on stage next to someone else, these artists were really missing that in virtual versions just don't really cut it.

Speaker 1: 15:06 And do you have a particular story or piece of art that left a real impression on you during this particular time?

Speaker 4: 15:13 Hmm. I think the first thing that comes to mind is this program called move American by a local dance collective called disco riot. It was a series of short dance films, all centered around these different American narratives on voting. It really dug into like how stories are told and who gets to decide which stories are shared on our stages. And I just have really gotten into the dance film genre lately. It's been around a while, but I feel like it had a bit of a revolution since the performance halls are closed

Speaker 1: 15:49 And the holidays are certainly an artistic time of year. The old globe isn't staging its traditional production of the Grinch, but it's being reproduced for radio. How has KPBS involved in that project?

Speaker 4: 16:00 So KPBS is airing this sort of old timey radio play format of dr. Seuss's, how the Grinch stole Christmas. Many of the same actors from previous productions are involved and it's kind of this gathered around their radio and listened to the classic story feel, but it's really accessible. So it really takes this tradition. I think a lot of the art around the holidays are built on traditions like the Nutcracker and the Grinch, but it really brings that tradition into an accessible format.

Speaker 1: 16:29 I'll look forward to getting my grandchildren collected around us and we'll listen to that. That should be a lot of fun. I've been speaking with Julia Dickson Evans editor and producer of the KPBS arts calendar. Thanks, Julia. Thanks so much, Mark. I appreciate it. Many of us have turned to music to get us through this stressful year and that's a major chunk of our local art scene. That's especially hurting concerts might be among the last big events to make a comeback just due to the nature of hundreds. If not thousands of people crammed into a small space for this special show, invited Tim piles, DJ at 91 X and host of the local music show loudspeaker to join us, Tim, welcome to the round table. Thank you for having me. Well, first off loudspeaker recently hit a milestone 30 years of showcasing local music on 91 X. Why do you think it's endured so long?

Speaker 5: 17:16 Well, luckily it's the people behind the radio station for one that have supported local music. You know, obviously so many ownership changes as, uh, changed the landscape of radio just in the last year here in San Diego. But thank goodness they recognized it all those years ago, Marco Collins, who's kind of a legend in alternative radio, started the program. And you know, there's been a couple of things that have happened that have bumped up its, uh, its popularity. You know, I really have to think 94 nine coming into our scene and uh, the changing, you know, they put the local show on at a much earlier time, which then reflected what 91 X did. So then a loudspeaker was put on in a much more valuable time, uh, for listeners and to catch listeners to turn local bands on. So I'm blessed, you know, especially right now with what's going on, it's shocking to see all these people around the country losing their job in radio and, and luckily 91 X is owned by, uh, a true independent company, uh, and not being affected by a lot of this

Speaker 1: 18:16 COVID-19 has thrown the local music scene for a loop. What do you think has been the biggest challenge for artists during this time? Is it the lack of venues or perhaps something else?

Speaker 5: 18:25 Well, you know, definitely no shows, uh, some of the restaurant gigs, you know, there's, there's kind of different levels of local musicians. You know, you might have a local musician that has kind of this band persona and project that performs at the Casbah or the belly up, but they also make their living by working at a vineyard or a restaurant and performing while people are eating their meals. So I think on some level, some of that music has come back in an outdoor environment, but, um, you know, I mean, I guess thank goodness for loans or unemployment. I mean, honestly, I don't know how a lot of these people are surviving I'm in an okay situation, but you know, I was doing stuff for the Casbah that is gone. The TV show, San Diego, that was, I was a part of has, uh, has wrapped up, you know, during COVID and I was hosting events in town and you know, a good chunk of my life is, has, uh, has kind of been sucked away and I'm, I'm not sure how to transition right now. I'm okay. So I'm planning on waiting it out, but it's a day or night experience for a guy that spent four or five nights a week going to see bands locally and touring bands and bands the tour, you know, that same experience. It's all it, it was all gone overnight. So, you know, the, the streaming thing is kind of cool, but it's not nearly as exciting as, as being inside the Casbah. Right,

Speaker 1: 19:46 Right. Certainly appreciate that. Well, when it comes to venues, they've been silent since March. What are you hearing about their survival as we approach nearly one year without events?

Speaker 5: 19:55 Yeah. You know, I mean, I got to figure house of blues is okay and they can sit something like this out, but you know, belly up and Casbah and brick by brick. Uh, some of my favorite venues, you know, they're locally owned and for them to survive, this is getting to be miraculous. I mean, it seems like Casbah and the belly up are going to be okay. But every time, you know, I wake up and get on social media or look at any, any news stories, you know, there's, there's places closing. It's been, you know, some bars and restaurants made bar pink. That's a big hit, they did a lot to support local music. And so it's really sad to see, to see that happen and, and lose that.

Speaker 1: 20:34 Let's also get your take on the music industry as a whole live nation. The major concert promoter in the U S at its revenue was down 95%. This summer major festivals like Coachella were canceled. How does that impact the, of the industry overall? Well,

Speaker 5: 20:49 I'm sure live nation is really doing okay, but I'm more concerned about the, uh, the people that are the, the infrastructure to making that happen. You know, there's a lot of people that count on Coachella and the stagecoach festival to put themselves to work here in Southern California for, you know, three, four months. And it's those people that are, you know, hurting the most. I mean, as we all know, live nation is probably probably doing just fine. I'm not worried about that, but yeah, anything below that, there's some organizations out there I believe Nieto is one and Neveah is the other, and they're kind of related to independent venues. And then the people that are like, you know, the rigors and the ones that are setting up all these shows that are all out.

Speaker 1: 21:33 And we've asked the panel this week about how the pandemic is influencing the arts, when it comes to content, are you hearing the influences of music when it comes to songwriting or other ways bands express themselves? And maybe it's a little soon for that because we're still in lockdown as it were

Speaker 5: 21:49 Well, Tori Rose she's in this great project called Tory Rose in the hot mess. And her project released a great cover of one of my favorite bands and their song, ghost town, the band being the specials. And that's very apropos because, uh, San Diego's much of the country is, is a ghost town. There are a lot of people doing some cool, fun streaming things, you know, trying maybe to get stuff to, you know, donations. And however, somebody might access that through a Patrion or Venmo. I've been fascinated by what some people that are doing the transition. There was this local, a woman Victoria Robertson that was performing Arias on her North park, a stoop every Sunday for like four months. I don't think she's doing it anymore, but yeah, I'm not really a fan of the idea of the, uh, driving concerts, but, uh, you know, it's, it's, it's something. And if you're, you know, really, uh, jonesing to go to a concert and get that experience again, there's something happening. So there's something out there. If you want to put yourself out there. I personally haven't even gone to one yet.

Speaker 1: 22:54 Well, you mentioned streaming, uh, you know, bands are having any luck on YouTube or other places online,

Speaker 5: 23:00 More projects doing, uh, you know, bigger bands. I know the gorillas have something planned, you know, um, which is kind of a worldwide event. Uh, but locally, you know, I want to say they are, you know, Tory Rose is doing, uh, even like a silly costume karaoke thing every week. And it's just, it's ways for these people to try to find a way to connect with their fans and, and hopefully stay, you know, stay valid, stay on top of mind and, uh, and have some kind of creative outlet. At least, at least with COVID happening. There are a lot of tools for you to do something and it might be a great time to create, even though it's a hard time probably to find motivation.

Speaker 1: 23:41 Of course, we're all hopeful that things are going to return to normal in the months ahead. The sooner couldn't couldn't get here soon enough for all of us, especially as the vaccines are rolled out. And when that happens and we get the all clear for concerts, again, what's the first act you want to see?

Speaker 5: 23:56 Well, I was thinking long and hard about that one. And, you know, I'm gonna, I'm just gonna have to say, uh, to keep it local because that's the flavor of what we're doing. And, and I love so many great local bands, but you know what, the band that I love the most and then is tattooed on my arm is rocket from the crypt. And those shows are in sedentary and, and just in your face and one of the best rock and roll bands I've ever experienced in my life from there, from our backyard in San Diego,

Speaker 1: 24:22 The best thing right now, before we go remind us about loudspeaker and how people can listen.

Speaker 5: 24:27 Yeah, I'm really blessed to be doing the show. I was there in the early two thousands. I left in 94 nine for about 10 years. And I've been back at 91 acts, just celebrating a six year anniversary. This month. The show is every Sunday night, seven to 10:00 PM. You can tune in old fashioned style on the radio 91.1 FM, it's a border blaster. We transmit out of a Hill in Mexico. So it can be heard far and wide. You can also stream it@ninetyonex.com and yes. Ask your smart speaker to play 91 X,

Speaker 1: 25:00 Alvin, and border radio. I'm reminded that song as you explained all of that.

Speaker 5: 25:05 Yeah, exactly. You know, I can remember being a young person hearing 91 X as far as Santa Barbara, and I've even heard myself on the radio, uh, through the, the, you know, the, the wonder of technology, uh, hearing myself on 91 X when I was up in Hollywood, up in the Hollywood Hills. So it is a powerful signal and hugely influential since 1983. It's crazy

Speaker 1: 25:28 Into the border radio. I've been speaking with Tim piles, host of loudspeaker on 91 X. Thanks a lot, Tim.

Speaker 5: 25:33 Yeah. Thank you for having me. This has been a great honor. I love KPBS

Speaker 1: 25:38 Wraps up this holiday weekend, special of the round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Beth Armando and Julia Dixon, Evans of KPBS and Tim piles, host of the local music show loudspeaker on 91 X a reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, kpbs.org. Thanks for listening and join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.