Are we in for a renaissance of art and commerce, a Great Reset in the 2020s? Maybe. Let’s hope so.
Evanston RoundTable, Aug. 19, 2020
The bad news just keeps rolling in. Now it’s the post office in trouble. Mail is piling up in warehouses, households are going weeks without postal service, employee hours are being cut, there’s talk of privatization. What’s next: sell off the national parks? Ben Franklin, call your office!
A report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company in June said one-quarter to one-half of small businesses might have to close in the face of a continued retail slump. You can see it in the increasing number of “For Rent” signs posted on vacant shop windows.
Many industries, such as airlines, hotels and restaurants, could take years to recover, according to the Sun-Times of Aug. 14.
With ridership down and funding uncertain, public transit systems “teeter on a precipice,” said a scary headline in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Kids and even college students are being deprived of needed social interaction with their peers. No one, not even the experts, seems confident of the best course for schools.
Worse, the Centers for Disease Control reported that roughly half of young adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression between April and June of this year, and one-fourth said they had considered suicide in the previous month.
Hopefully things are not that dire. But still, aside from the stock market, which seems to remain in a state of “irrational exuberance,” to quote former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan about the dot-com bubble, the news remains gloomy.
A funding appeal from Black Ensemble Theater last week put the issue squarely front and center. “The theaters were among the first to be closed and we will be amongst the last to reopen. As you can imagine this is a financially challenging period,” wrote CEO Jackie Taylor. Challenging indeed. How long can theaters survive without money coming in from the box office?
Arts organizations in general are hurting. No arts group wants or can afford to be separated from its audience for very long. But of course it is necessary to do what is safe for both performers and audiences.
But there is some good news amid the bad. Creative solutions are at hand. Dance Center Evanston will open Sept. 8 with some students live while others will be online, says Director Béa Rashid. “Class sizes will be limited, all students and teachers masked and socially distanced, and cleaning protocols strictly maintained. Studio5 will continue to broadcast live online music performances as well their ongoing outdoor collaborations with Post 42 Patio. The Evanston Dance Ensemble will begin small group rehearsals for pop up performances in the future.”
Although the Evanston Symphony has postponed or cancelled its concerts through the end of 2020, it hopes to resume live concerts as soon as feasible in 2021. Programs being considered include “different sized ensembles, with consideration of inclusion and/or exclusion of various instruments depending on the results of various aerosol studies. The time of year they take place, as well as availability of guest artists will also impact what our concerts might look like,” says ESO Music Director Lawrence Eckerling. “This could mean starting with one-hour concerts without an intermission to facilitate additional safety for our audiences.”
Best of all, we know the current national health and economic crisis is temporary. There will be better therapies coming online to fight the virus, and a vaccine to eliminate it seems within reach. Whether that reach is six or 12 or 18 months away we don’t yet know.
Vacant stores will eventually reopen, for the most part, though the recycling process may take years. And fresh funding for the beleaguered post office is in the offing.
The Influenza Pandemic of a century ago is instructive. It took a terrible toll – as many as 50 million people died worldwide, far more than the number of deaths from World War I. But despite the lack of an effective vaccine or therapies, the pandemic burned itself out within 24 months.
What followed was the creative frenzy and intellectual ferment of the Jazz Age of the 1920s. Are we in for a renaissance of art and commerce this time, a Great Reset in the 2020s? Maybe. Let’s hope so.