KNOW THE VAX FACTS: The cultural cost of the pandemic

AS WE CONTINUE TO GRAPPLE with tragic outcomes of the pandemic in terms of human life and health, and the economic hardships for so many, we need to also recognize the cultural costs.

The live experience of the performing arts, which depends so fundamentally on the ability to gather and share uplifting experiences, is one of the deep losses to all of us in this pandemic period. It is a loss that exacerbates the inner challenges of this time in so many ways.

The social benefits of participating in the arts, which include helping us deal with isolation, loneliness, and loss—things that are present in our lives, pandemic or not—are precisely the benefits that are lost when we cannot gather together. The same can be said about the joys and celebrations of life, and our contemplation through song and expression of deeper ideas and meaning.

The cancellation messages on the websites are poignant and heartfelt. Basilica Hudson writes:

“With heavy hearts, we write to inform you that Basilica Hudson has made the impossibly difficult, though necessary, decision to cancel Basilica SoundScape 2021. This was not an easy conclusion to come to, but ultimately one done out of caution to prioritize the safety of our beloved artists, team and you — our cherished audience.”

A Place for Jazz, a venerable Albany non-profit that has put on a concert series since 1987, has also canceled this year’s season completely, noting the impossibility of doing it safely for all concerned.

Some performance venues are forging ahead with heroic efforts to make their settings safe, including strict vaccination regulations. As the cold season approaches, and outdoor performances are no longer possible, the prospects are considerably more bleak.

Along with this, we must also recognize the effects on people who work in this field.

As Laura Hartman of Town of Ulster (near Kingston), who has been managing leading jazz artists for over 20 years, puts it, “The pandemic has been devastating for professionals in the performing arts. In March 2020, everything just ended; completely canceled. With the lack of people cooperating in getting vaccinated, we are still unsure when we can come fully back. Certainly we are not nearly there yet.”

She went on to say, “As music professionals, we love what we do and it’s who we are. It’s not a matter of just going out and getting some other job. No musician does what they do just for a job.”

No one can deny that those who are nowadays called “essential workers” are, in fact, essential. But it is also true that the arts are, in the long term, essential as well. The arts are about the very continuity of culture.

For me, the recognition of this very palpable cost to our culture further reinforces the rationale for vaccination and other safety measures. It’s a step we can each take to bring us closer to the day when we can share in the cultural life we love.

As the wonderful Columbia County music venue, Club Helsinki, which has closed entirely for the time being, concludes in their website message:

“We so deeply look forward to the day and time when we can reopen our doors and celebrate a new dawn with good food, drink, and music—or, as we like to think of it, food for the soul.”


David McCarthy is a lifelong musician, and an activist and writer. He is co-founder of the Hudson Valley Current, a local currency for our region, and author of “Civil Endowment, the Transformation of Economic Power”.

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