A maker of doll clothes and accessories, Heather Merrill saw all of her income from craft shows evaporate this year due to COVID-caused event cancellations. Luckily, the 23-year-old Ansonia resident earned $4,000 on Etsy, up from less than $1,000 last year, mostly from selling masks. The fairs brought in around $5,000 annually. That’s not enough for a livelihood, but Merrill lives at home with her working parents and foster siblings. “The pandemic has pushed people to shop online and more people are finding my Etsy shop. But nothing compares to a physical fair, income-wise,” she says.
Connecticut’s creative sector lost more than 28,000 jobs in the industry’s top 20 occupations from April through July, a Brookings Institution study found. That includes photographers; painters, sculptors and illustrators; tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers; and many other artists and artisans. Seshu Badrinath of Avon, a photojournalist who specializes in portraits, says his income has dropped by at least half compared to the previous year. The Brookings study points out that photographers will suffer the largest employment losses in the creative sector.
A growing number of Connecticut artists and craftspeople are joining a nationwide initiative called Artists Sunday, an online art sales event on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29. The free service for artists was launched by photographer Christopher Sherman. “Most of the large events that draw in 100,000 to 300,000 people have been canceled. Even smaller community-oriented events have been forced to cancel,” Sherman says. “Our mission is to help artists increase sales and recognition through a national promotional effort during the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Skip Black Friday, shop Artists Sunday.” Though organizers are promoting Nov. 29 as the sales day, a searchable artists’ directory is up on the site now.
The Connecticut Office of the Arts at the state Department of Economic and Community Development is among several economic development organizations partnering in the initiative. “We hope that the platform brings attention to the amazing creative output of Connecticut artists,” says the group’s director, Elizabeth Shapiro. “We are very interested to see what the outcome of this massive effort is across the U.S.” Shapiro points to national data from Americans for the Arts: 62 percent of creative workers have become fully unemployed, and the average financial loss per artist/creative worker is $21,000 as of June 15. Nationally, they expect to lose $50.6 billion in income in 2020.
Nancy Monson of Southbury, also an Artists Sunday participant, says sales of her fiber art have dropped to zero due to exhibit cancellations. “I’m hoping Artists Sunday and building an art-specific website will help me start selling again.” Like many artists, though, Monson has other sources of income, including teaching Zentangle, a stress-reducing drawing technique; and collage, quilting and silk painting. She also holds lectures on art as a stress-reliever.
Others are turning to local nonprofits. Yvonne Gordon Moser, a mixed-media painter and printmaker in Wallingford, exhibited in the New Haven Art Space City Wide Open Studios, an online and by-appointment event in October. “As the result of COVID-19, there are actually more online opportunities for selling art which didn’t exist pre-COVID,” she says.
Gordon Moser, who is also participating in Artists Sunday, is branching out into art therapy and is in the process of obtaining her license as an art therapist and a licensed counselor in Connecticut. Currently, she works at Art and Soul Art Therapy in Madison, where, along with Briana Benn-Mirandi, she helps clients “sort out feelings of being stuck, lost, angry and alone while dealing with the adjustments needed to be made during the pandemic.”
Browse a nationwide directory of artists and craftspeople. Artists can also sign up to be listed for free.