In June 2020, I was appointed to the Library’s interdisciplinary Coronavirus Web Archive project team to select social and cultural content. The Coronavirus Web Archive’s official landing page and press release came out on #WebArchiveWednesday, February 2, 2022. I am very proud to say that performing arts content is a major part of the Coronavirus Web Archive numbering over 180 items. In this first post, I’ll walk you through one of the major thematic areas within the Coronavirus Web Archive: financial relief efforts in the performing arts.
The performing arts world was immediately hit financially when quarantine measures and shutdowns began in March 2020. People whose entire livelihoods depended upon performing, creating, and producing the arts in front of live audiences suddenly had little to no sources of income. I hope that the websites and web pages in the Coronavirus Web Archive that document financial relief efforts specifically for the performing arts will be primary sources for future research about relief efforts during the pandemic. As I sought out and selected this content, our patrons who rely upon the Federal Theatre Project Collection and Federal Music Project Collection to learn about relief projects during the Great Depression were ever-present in my mind.
One archived website that can serve as such a resource was newly created during the pandemic: Covid-19 Freelance Artist Resource. The Freelance Artist Resource Producing Collective created this online directory as a central information hub about relief efforts and free resources for U.S.-based performing artists. The last updates on the live website are from February 2021. Explore how the list of resources changed and grew over time in the Coronavirus Web Archive, as well as embedded videos of webinars for freelance artists dating from March 2020. A similar resource from the United Kingdom is Corona Advice for Musicians. Captures of specific pages within the Jazz Philadelphia website document local resources for that community, as well as an archived blog post from May 21, 2020, “Jazz in the Time of Corona.”
Stars in the House was a new fundraiser and website created during the pandemic by SiriusXM host Seth Rudetsky and producer James Wesley to support The Actors Fund. Embedded videos of the daily livestreams and lists of participating stars are available in the Coronavirus Web Archive. The fundraising effort is ongoing on the live website. You can also view archived captures of the Actors Fund website in the Professional Organizations for Performing Arts Web Archive to observe how content interrelates.
The Slay at Home Festival was also a fundraising effort centered on performance. It was a free virtual metal music and arts festival organized by Frank Godla of Metal Injection to raise funds for the charities MusiCares and Global Giving during the COVID-19 pandemic. The online festival took place on May 29 and May 30, 2020, and a monthly virtual series streamed online from September 2020-June 2021. Look through the archived captures of the site to learn about the bands who participated in the event and view embedded videos of the shows. (Remember, the Music Division doesn’t limit its collecting to only jazz and classical music!)
Another new website and ongoing pandemic relief effort is the Broadway Relief Project. This initiative provided Broadway costume designers and costume makers with income by manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic for New York City frontline healthcare workers. The Broadway Relief Project also manufactures specialized masks for vocalists, instrumentalists, and production crew members so that they may safely return to work nationwide.
The Theatre Bay Area Performing Arts Worker Relief Fund is an example of a local collaborative relief effort on the West Coast. The single page within the organization’s main website is part of the Coronavirus Web Archive, and captures over time can help you track how much money was being raised to support performing artists in the greater San Francisco area. Another West Coast-based relief fund is the Sweet Relief COVID-19 Fund.
The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee established a COVID-19 Blues Musician Emergency Relief Fund. While the organization is national, the fund serves a designated community: full-time blues musicians. Another relief fund designated for a specific musician community was the Equal Sound Corona Relief Fund for musicians in the new music community.
There are many examples of relief efforts managed by organizations whose main websites are in the Professional Organizations for Performing Arts Web Archive with specific pages about pandemic efforts within the Coronavirus Web Archive. The Dance Studies Association (part of the Professional Organizations for Performing Arts Web Archive) illustrates the ephemeral nature of the Web in particular. An article deep within the site, “covid-19 artistimulus: redirecting researcher funds for artist honoraria” is included in the Coronavirus Web Archive for quick access (archived URL: https://dancestudiesassociation.org/news/2020/covid-19-artistimulus-redirecting-research-funds-for-artist-honoraria). You can see it listed as an additional digital object under “More Resources.” But, if you try to copy and paste the URL into your browser to view the article on the live Web, it no longer exists. Even if you navigate to the live News and Announcements page, the information isn’t there either. Our Web Archive might be one of the only places to find historical evidence about the initiative.
The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) full website is also in the Professional Organizations for Performing Arts Web Archive. Like the Dance Studies Association, the page about COVID-19 advocacy (archived URL: https://www.apap365.org/Advocacy/COVID19) is no longer available on the live Web, but can be viewed in the Coronavirus Web Archive. Other organizations who spearheaded pandemic relief efforts that are present in both collections include the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) (with the SDC Emergency Assistance Fund page in the Coronavirus Web Archive) and New Music USA (with the New Music Solidarity Fund page in the Coronavirus Web Archive).
This blog post by no means contains an exhaustive list of relief efforts for the performing arts during the pandemic, nor does it contain information about archived websites of relief efforts still under the one-year embargo period. But, I do hope that this post gives you a taste of what’s possible for using web archives to do performing arts research and documenting pivotal moments in cultural history.
Upcoming posts in this series will examine more themes across performing arts items in the Coronavirus Web Archive.
With all due respect, I don’t think anyone should be “very proud” of content borne out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given how negatively lives and livelihoods all around the world have been affected, this comes across as tone-deaf. Are financial relief programs for the Arts an indication of a nation’s investment in its artists? Certainly. Am I criticizing federal efforts to support a population out of work? Not at all. I only take issue with being “very proud” of the sheer number of relief programs and content that were instituted as a direct result of a grim pandemic. This feels dismissive of so many who have unjustly suffered and struggled since 2020.
Thank you for reading and sharing your valuable perspective. To be clear, I am proud that the performing arts *as a subject* are well represented this interdisciplinary web archive collection, not the number of pandemic relief programs. My hope is that this archive can serve as future evidence that those in the performing arts field were deeply impacted by the pandemic and document, for posterity, how communities responded to the crisis.