Outdoor classes are popular at Celtic Junction Arts Center.
By Natalie Nugent O’Shea
Arts connect, educate, inspire, comfort, give us hope, reinvent, show us our truest needs and deepest wishes — and yet they are one of the industries hit hardest in this pandemic. Statistics from the American Center for the Arts have captured coronavirus-related economic impact reports from artists, arts organizations, and arts agencies of all types, genres, sizes, and tax statuses - revealing a staggering loss.
While 72 percent of arts organizations reporting have modified their operating status and increased their online presence -- half have used financial reserves, over a third have reduced or laid off employees, and only 11 percent of arts organizations reporting are confident they will survive this period. The globalization of arts poses both blessings and challenges as what was recently only regionally available is now universally accessible.
Where does that leave Irish arts? Like other national Irish cultural institutions, Minnesota’s Celtic Junction Arts Center presents a wide range of arts and educational programming — our focus is in the northern heartland with well over 300 miles to the next nearest Irish cultural center. We preserve the past and forge the future as an essential cross section between traditional and modern. We connect people to Ireland in both its heritage and history and are part of its evolving identity. Through access to the performing and educational arts we weave the traditions of dance, music, visual and literary arts -- bonding artists and audiences, masters and beginners to the then and now.
What, exactly, does “hybrid” mean for us? As we transition through pandemic solutions and into the future with a new format for another new world -- one where anyone can attend anything from anywhere -- we are constantly asking ourselves what is next? “Will our concerts need premium ‘live’ tickets and accessible live streaming?” As vaccinations become the norm and we can reconvene, “Should our classes be hosted in-person and online?” As larger institutions create international, coordinated, star-studded programming, “How does that affect our efforts to court and showcase talent?” When anyone can take a similar class in New York or Los Angeles with A-lister names, “What impact might there be on a local center with a fraction of the resources?” It feels fragile. Globalization and accessibility are exciting - but resources often gravitate to the heavy-hitters.
Who are we to be now? There is no coincidence Celtic Junction Arts Center chose St. Brigid’s Cross as our identity - woven elements of individual straws and reeds. We are constantly humbled at the fact that an organization like ours relies on so many pieces to come together to make and keep a cultural center. The threads are volunteers and artists and educators, bound together by a communal effort. We only thrive when those threads unite. Dwindling to an existence of virtual events, outdoor classes, and pre-recorded sessions and seminars leaves a thin digital heartbeat.
Act local, art local!
The arts are a worldwide market, and as the arguments of “Buy Local” work for food and goods, they need to work for the arts too. Our center is only one small example -- because here you can literally see how it takes all the elements to come together to make the whole. Local artists need you to buy tickets to see and experience their good music. Local educators need you to take their classes as they research, discover and share their knowledge. Local schools need to replenish classes with new and returning students. Local events - pop-up shops and festivals and fairs will need your dollars to come back and be there next year too.
As big events and travel bugs beckon, remember that keeping arts dollars in your local economy helps distribute and circulate those arts nearby, where it matters most to daily living. The impact is tremendous, as it feeds back into itself. Artists attend venues, venues support artists, audience members take classes, classes share knowledge, knowledge breeds new life into culture, and culture makes community. Those making and teaching and sharing every note, step and craft are the ones that stitch and weave the invisible threads that make and keep you and your neighbors playing and singing and dancing.
Find local music, performances and artists and invest there, right where you live, because they want to be there for you, too.
Natalie Nugent O'Shea is Executive Director of Celtic Junction Arts Center, St. Paul, Minn. For more information, go to www.celticjunction.org.