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A field reliant on community support, COVID-19 has significantly impacted arts organizations and the artists they serve. For executive director Melissa Macker and program manager Jonathan Harwell-Dye, adjusting to a socially distant reality has been challenging. However, both have maintained their passion during COVID-19 for the work they do and who it affects.

Programming During COVID-19

One of the most significant shifts for Harwell-Dye and Macker has been reimagining programming for their organizations. This is especially true for Macker, whose programming for The 567 Center for Renewal is primarily classes and art shows.

“Everything I knew that worked that was tested and proven over time didn’t matter now,” Macker said. “And our main sources of revenue were gone. I spent most of the first few weeks reading articles and watching webinars on topics ranging from how to make your arts programming virtual to how to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program. There was so much information out there on ‘how to adapt to COVID-19,’ and even that information was continually changing.”

Similarly, Harwell-Dye had to find a new approach to his work. He went from having months to plan programs for the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville to merely weeks. Another significant change has been developing online programming while responding to the needs of the creative community.

“We postponed education seminars that were planned and, instead, offered webinars on the CARES Act,” Harwell-Dye said. “We helped creatives with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and we created the Artist Relief Fund to provide direct support to artists who lost income due to cancellations and closures. We’re focused on what our constituents need right now to get them through this situation because that’s the most important thing we can do.”

Funding During COVID-19

Securing and managing funding has been another priority. For Macker, the pandemic has transformed her nonprofit’s budget and revenue stream.

“Our main source of revenue is art classes, and even with virtual art classes, we lost almost two months’ worth of revenue,” Macker said. “It also has affected artwork sales and memberships. We probably will end up canceling the fundraising event we had planned for this year. “

While Harwell-Dye’s organization has fared well in regards to funding, he predicts some significant changes to fundraising for nonprofits. With social distancing guidelines, the pandemic has made in-person fundraising events impossible.

“As we begin reopening, I wonder what the longterm psychological effects will be and how that will affect our ability to gather for fundraising events a year from now or even two or three,” Harwell-Dye said. “I think this pandemic will mark a big shift in nonprofit fundraising strategies moving forward.”

Macker also expects this pandemic to have long-term effects with funding and is taking steps to minimize the impact.

“Even without shelter-in-place, we expect our classes, gallery sales, and other sources of revenue to be affected for the rest of the year,” Macker said. “Thankfully, there are people and organizations who want to help.”

Community Outreach During COVID-19

In addition to changes in funding, they have had to find new ways to connect with the community. Macker has found this transition tricky for the 567.

“We are more than an arts organization,” Macker said. “We are a place where people connect and interact with each other through art. Whether that is an art class, a First Friday art opening, or working in our pottery studio. Trying to interact through Facebook or Instagram just isn’t the same for most people. “

For Harwell-Dye, much of his outreach has involved helping artists find financial stability.

“We shifted our annual Periscope: Artist Entrepreneur Training online, instead of canceling or postponing it, so I’ve been able to work closely with a cohort of 24 artists as they develop their creative businesses,” Harwell-Dye said. “Along with that, a few weeks ago, we launched the Greater Nashville Artist Relief Fund, so I’ve spent a lot of time sending money to artists impacted by cancellations and closures due to COVID-19 (and the March 3 tornadoes that immediately preceded it in Nashville.)”

Community Support During COVID-19

Harwell-Dye and Macker have been amazed by the support from the community during this pandemic. Macker has been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of others.

“When I had to call customers and tell them that classes were canceled or postponed, some of them went out of their way to offer words of support,” Macker said. “Others offered a donation without being asked.many people are kind and really want to help.”

For Harwell-Dye, the creative community’s response has been astounding. He witnessed creatives create live streams, art kits, and even “porch portraits” for those sheltering in place. The ingenuity and quick thinking have been impressive.

“Most impressive, though, is how that response was rooted in comforting people who needed it, “Harwell-Dye said. “This, to me, perfectly illustrates the value that the arts add to our lives, and, as an arts advocate, I think it’s the most compelling proof of how necessary and essential the arts are to us all.”

Passion During COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, Harwell-Dye, and Macker’s commitment to their work hasn’t changed. This love for what they do maintains their passion during COVID-19 and beyond.

“My heart is in The 567,” Macker said. “This crisis may be overwhelming at times, but giving up is not an option. As long as I feel that The 567 still has an important role to play in our community, and a chance of making it, giving up is not an option. It does help, though, when people around me offer words of encouragement. It makes a difference to know that my friends, board members, or artists I work with believe in me.”

Harwell-Dye has found peace in the simple act of helping others.

“I was just listening to an episode of the podcast Armchair Expert, and the guest was Dr. Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale who studies happiness,” Harwell-Dye said. “As I reflect back on the last couple of months, the thing that’s really kept me motivated is the thing that has always kept me motivated — helping artists build successful careers.”

Beyond COVID-19: The Future of Arts Non-profits

Both Harwell-Dye and Macker’s are hopeful for the future. They believe this time will provide them with new skills to create a more significant impact. For Macker, she looks forward to adopting a more innovative mindset.

“I hope the lessons learned during this crisis will help me think ‘outside the box’ more for a long time,” Macker said. “Even without a global pandemic, the world, our community, is constantly changing. Organizations have to innovate to stay relevant. Sometimes that means trying something that doesn’t work, learning something, and moving on.”

Harwell-Dye also believes in the importance of adaptability. He sees this as essential to the future of arts nonprofits.

“The arts nonprofit sector exists to support creativity, and in a world where artists’ livelihoods can be halted in an instant, the nonprofit sector is going to have to have a role in creating a safety net for the sector,” Harwell-Dye said. “Our sector has to work with artists and creatives to determine what we should have had in place prior to the pandemic so that we can create those programs before the next crisis comes.”

If you enjoyed this piece on passion during COVID-19, check out previous posts in this series: #PandemicPerspectives: Benjamin & Velasco on Transition During COVID-19 and #PandemicPerspectives: Chambliss & Martin On Service During COVID-19.

About Featured Professionals

#PandemicPerspectives: Macker & Harwell-Dye On Passion During COVID-19. Picture of a white man, bald, smiling at the camera wearing glasses.

Working at the intersection of art and business, Jonathan Harwell-Dye is passionate about supporting artists and arts organizations, building equitable communities, and living a creative life. Trained as a scientific illustrator, he’s found purpose for more than 15 years as an arts administrator, graphic artist, curator, communications director, and editor. He aligns his passion and purpose as program manager for the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville overseeing the day-to-day management of key programs that provide resources and education for the city’s thriving creative sector. 

#PandemicPerspectives: Macker & Harwell-Dye On Passion During COVID-19. Picture of a white woman with shoulder length blond hair smiling at the camera.

Melissa Macker is the founding executive director at The 567 Center for Renewal. She oversees The 567’s art gallery, art education program, and other events. Every day is different, and her position requires being flexible and creative. She is passionate about helping artists create profitable businesses.

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