Times are tough. That’s a huge understatement, but it needs to be acknowledged. Within the past week, the threat of COVID-19 has forced business owners throughout the country to make the extremely difficult decision to limit hours, postpone or cancel events, or cease operations entirely for at few weeks at the very least. History will show it’s the right decision, but some establishments will close permanently as a result. Others will struggle to get back to where they were before this all started.
The recommended self-isolation and quarantines are also severely impacting service industry workers, musicians, artists, and countless others who rely on performance venues being open in order to make ends meet. Of course, there are so many people that could use support right now, so please donate your money, time, and energy to those in need in any way you see fit. However, if you find yourself feeling confused or helpless regarding ways to help local performance venues, musicians, and other area artists during this difficult time, here are some ideas that might be useful.
1. Buy apparel and/or gift cards from venues
Every night and weekend a venue is closed directly translates to lost income. However, one way you can help performance spaces bring in money while they sit dark and empty is through buying merchandise and gift cards. So if you’ve been eyeing a Pabst Theater shirt, you plan on eventually checking out Ampersand Theater‘s new location, or you’d like to buy Future You the gift of Future Beers the next time you go to X-Ray Arcade, consider treating yourself and supporting your favorite venue at the same time by making a purchase.
2. Donate to a crowdfunding campaign
Desperate times call for desperate measures and, though it’s the last thing these business want to do, owners or employees who are facing months without pay are asking friends and strangers for help through crowding channels. Sunday night, a Cactus Club bartender started a GoFundMe campaign to help support staff and cover new owner Kelsey Kaufmann’s operational expenses for a few months. Yesterday, X-Ray Arcade also launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to help them stay afloat after having multiple shows postponed and canceled. Pabst Theater Group—which will have to postpone concerts until at least mid-May—also launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for staff who will be losing hours. Short of handing owners money (which is both unsanitary and a breach of social distancing policies), this is the most direct way to help venues.
3. Buy music from an artist’s Bandcamp page or personal website
Of course, venues and their employees aren’t the only ones hurt by these closings. Local musicians are missing out on performance opportunities and, as a direct result, losing money right now. As they face the unsavory prospect of waiting weeks (if not months) to take the stage again, you can help struggling musicians recoup at least some of their lost wages by buying their music—or other merchandise—on their personal websites or on Bandcamp. We know you’ve been using Bandcamp to stream music from your favorite local artists. Now is the time to smash that “buy” button. While any purchase is helpful, it’s worth mentioning that digital sales require no physical contact to deliver and they keep musicians and/or their record labels away from the post office.
4. Buy tickets to an event in the distant future that you plan to attend
This bullshit can’t last forever, can it? We still don’t know everything about this disease, but it’s not far-fetched to believe things will eventually return to what, tragically, qualified as “normal” to us only a few days ago. People will gather again. Businesses will re-open. Concerts, comedy shows, and other forms of entertainment will occur. Why not buy some tickets for some of these events in advance? Sure, maybe play it safe and avoid grabbing tickets to something in early April. However, you’re probably in the clear purchasing tickets to Marcus Center’s 2020-2021 Broadway season or to summer events like, say, Neil Hamburger’s show at Laughing Tap in June or GGOOLLDD’s recently rescheduled show at Turner Hall this August, for example.
5. Buy coffee and beer from cafes and breweries that host live events
Some of Milwaukee’s most trusted venues also double as coffee shops or breweries. As a result of closures, cafes like Anodyne’s Walker’s Point Roastery and Colectivo Coffee’s Prospect Avenue location will soon see a significant dip in sales. Same goes for entertainment-equipped breweries like Company Brewing, Lakefront Brewery, and Pabst Milwaukee Brewery & Taproom (a.k.a. Captain Pabst Pilot House). Fortunately, you can find products from these businesses in a retail setting. Grocery stores have to remain open, so while out on a rare shopping excursion, consider buying a sixer from one of these breweries or a pound of coffee from one of those roasters in a retail setting. You can also order coffee from Anodyne and Colectivo online.
6. Order carryout food or delivery from restaurants that host live music
Like the breweries and roasters listed above, a handful of establishments that routinely host shows actually generate the majority of their income from food sales. With no performances to bring people in, music-oriented eateries like Transfer Pizzeria, Crafty Cow, and Mason Street Grill among many others now must rely entirely on income via carryout orders and deliveries. The aforementioned Company Brewing will match tips given to its employees (up to 20 percent) on carryout orders. Help multi-use restaurants continue to exist through deliveries, carryout orders, and gift card purchases so they may also bring live music back when the time is right.
7. Take “virtual lessons”
Face it: you’re going to be extremely bored at various points in the next month or so. Similarly, we imagine underemployed local creatives will be quite bored as well. If you need a break from watching Netflix and washing your hands, consider taking “virtual lessons” from a Milwaukee musician. Chauntee Ross from SistaStrings is offering online tutorials, for example. We’re willing to bet photographers or visual artists might be open to giving virtual tips on their process and technique if the compensation is right. Talented people are out of work and have wisdom to impart. You probably have time to spare. Why not try to use the isolation to better yourself?
8. Purchase art and photography from galleries and/or an artist’s personal website
We’ve tailored much of this list to musicians so far, but the struggles related to social distancing also affect artists in other mediums. Photographers are having assignments canceled at an alarming clip. Galleries are shutting their doors and leaving visual artists hurting for buyers. Fortunately, you can still see original photography, paintings, prints, and much more online. If you have time and money to spare, take a look at some art from Milwaukee makers and consider decorating your home or office while also helping someone who is in a tough spot.
9. Commission a song, illustration, portrait, etc. from a local artist
Honestly, this one is kind of a hybrid of numbers 7 and 8. In short, talented people are bored and in need of work. So why not see if you could commission a song for your podcast or as a gift to a loved one? Ask an illustrator to design your business logo or draw your cat. See if someone can take pictures of your favorite (outdoor) Milwaukee landmark for you to frame. Of course, don’t take advantage of anyone’s lack of financial footing in this trying time. Pay them what their time and effort is worth. Just be aware that lots of artists’ social and professional schedules are far more open than they were one week ago, so maybe they’d like to collaborate with you on something special.
10. Listen to local music on repeat on streaming platforms
This one is last for a reason. Payments from streaming services are famously abysmal, but we’re also aware that what’s happening right now is adversely impacting folks in all walks of life. If you can’t spare any of your own money at this time, you can at least make some semblance of an impact by playing music from Wisconsin bands, rappers, and solo artists on Spotify, Apple Music, and countless other streaming services. Make a playlist or put an album on repeat and walk out of the room. Do anything to send—quite literally—a buck or two an artist’s way. Every little bit helps. We’re in this together, so please do you part to support your scene while staying home and washing your goddamn hands.
Have any other ideas to help artists, musicians, and venues impacted by closures related to COVID-19? Please let us know in the comments.