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Local Artists Miss Audiences and Income
A singer performs at an Acoustic Grace event at Brooklyn Grace.
Unique 'Gig Fund' Aims to Help
by Mark Wallace
The life of a performing artist is not always an easy one, and in cities like Charlotte, performers often rely on restaurants, bars and other venues for their livelihood. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and those places were forced to shut down, it left performing artists floundering.
“It’s already hard enough to be a performing artist on a regular day, but being one during COVID season is not just hard, but challenging,” said indie singer Courtney J.
“Most people are able to work from home, but when you are a performing artist, that became impossible for most of us,” said singer Kenya Templeton.
Recognizing the struggle artists are going through, Blumenthal Performing Arts has partnered with Charlotte Center City Partners to reenergize the city with free events that also support local artists and get them performing again.
Rick Thurmond
“Through November, we’ve provided more than 125 paid gigs for more than 70 local musicians via outdoor popup concerts, in addition to all of the outdoor concerts that Blumenthal has presented,” said Rick Thurmond, senior vice president of community and economic development at Charlotte Center City Partners.
“Art and artists are essential elements of the soul of Center City Charlotte,” he said. “I cannot imagine this place without the impact of artists, whether it is a mural or a street performance, or a concert or exhibition on a Blumenthal stage, or inside one of our museums.”
Initially, CCCP launched the Charlotte Music Community Relief Fund through its Music Everywhere CLT initiative, providing emergency grants to local artists to replace lost income and help cover rent and other necessities. This was done in partnership with Tosco Music and Fair Play: Music Equity Initiative.
“We were able to raise money through public contributions and grants and our sponsor AvidXchange, and we made 160 unrestricted grants to members of the music community in need,” said Thurmond.
Tom Gabbard
Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard served on the committee to review applications. “I could see firsthand that the need was there, and how grateful people were for the help,” Gabbard said. “Realizing that many of these artists would be without gigs and their usual income for a while, I suggested we morph it into what we’re now calling a ‘gig fund.’”
That meant not just giving artists money but also giving them audiences.
“By hiring them to play a free concert, there is the added psychological boost and encouragement of getting out in front of an audience,” Gabbard said.
“Audiences were craving live music,” Thurmond said. “Indoor concerts were not an option. So we launched a program called Communities in Concert and are supporting it with a gig fund, which is an evolution of the relief fund. We’re thrilled to partner with Blumenthal on this.”
Thurmond said Blumenthal was already doing a great job bringing the indoors outside. “We partnered to produce amazing, safe activations in a converted parking lot we call Victoria Yards and outside Spirit Square, and we look forward to continuing to work together.”
Bluz Rogers
Blumenthal Director of Creative Engagement Boris “Bluz” Rogers said Blumenthal embraced the concept fully.
“Blumenthal has really stepped up by creating new platforms for artists to get back to work – to get back to performing, creating and inspiring,” he said. “With events like Revive the Vibe, Uptown Sweat and Acoustic Grace, Blumenthal has managed to expand the idea of where performing arts can happen in the city.”
Gabbard said the efforts also involve partnering with local restaurants that no longer can afford to hire artists. “These gigs have the added benefit of helping to reactivate our city,” he said.
“COVID is making (Blumenthal) think creatively about how and where they present programming – taking folks out of the zoom rooms and getting them out of the house, in safe socially distanced spaces, for fun and creative events,” said Rogers. “Each event has also had donation boxes and QR codes in order to give even more to the artists. So they are not only helping the artists in Charlotte but also helping the folks who miss the arts by giving them some hope.”
At the Revive the Vibe event held at Spirit Square and Victoria Yards on Oct. 17, for instance, thousands of dollars were raised to help pay the artists, and the performers were grateful to be able to get onstage again.
Blumenthal is collecting donations to pay local artists to perform at events during the pandemic when many, if not all, of their other sources of income have dried up.
“I’m filled with joy because I’m able to do what I do best, and that's to reach people,” said indie singer YDMBSM who performed with Courtney J at Revive the Vibe. “I feel invincible almost! It’s 2020 and I’m still here!”
Templeton, who also performed at the event, said: “Performing is about an exchange of energy for me, and I missed it so much. Being without live music has made me appreciate it even more.”
Gabbard said Blumenthal’s mission has always been about bringing artists and audiences together. “Normally that’s a combination of touring and local artists. Now, with touring at a standstill, it makes sense for us to focus on our great local artists,” he said.
“We partner with Center City Partners on many things. This initiative to put ‘Music Everywhere’ with free concerts for the public, while also paying artists who need the money and the mental boost, is something that both our organizations know is important to the health of our city.”
“To do a live show again is fulfilling and gives me hope normalcy will return.”
R&B artist
Thurmond said over the winter, the plan is to scale back the outdoor concerts but possibly add some virtual development workshops to help local musicians learn how to launch and build careers in Charlotte. He hopes to continue and expand on the Communities in Concert program next year.
Rogers said artists have been eager to get back out there, and some venues are putting in the effort to make their spaces safe for performers and audiences. “We are realizing that all of this will take time, heart, ingenuity and creative savvy to make it work, and thankfully Charlotte is full of people who embody all of those amazing things.”
All of this gives local artists at least a dash of optimism for what lies ahead.
“To do a live show again is fulfilling and gives me hope normalcy will return,” said R&B artist Cyanca who participated in Revive the Vibe. “I want people to understand how much weight we have to carry. We have a responsibility to heal people through music while maintaining our mental stability. But we are the true definition of perseverance because it’s in us to make something out of nothing and just keep going!”
Scott Marvill, a guitarist, bassist, writer and producer who also performed at Revive the Vibe, shares Cyanca’s optimism and puts a positive spin on the COVID-19 quarantine situation. “Kind of like a power outage in a major city is responsible for a baby-boom, there is, and will be great music coming out.”
Some interviews conducted by Joy West
Slide Show from Revive the Vibe
To help with the artist Gig Fund, you can donate online HERE or by texting GIVE to 66866. Your gift pays local artists.
Arts professionals talk about dealing with the pandemic and look to the future. Check out the article on the next page.