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Abrams' Louisville Artists Network Emerges From Coronavirus Isolation

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Composer, conductor and musician Teddy Abrams, who is also music director for the Louisville Orchestra, isn't a "huge social media person." 

But he's been recording music at his home and sharing it on Facebook ever since the coronavirus pandemic forced the orchestra to cancel its concerts. 

“When this first happened, artists around the world followed their instincts which was to share,” Abrams said. “They immediately leapt online. We might not be able to perform on stages or with audiences in person, but if a technology exists to allow us to communicate, that is our new stage, that is our venue.”

While the pandemic hasn’t stopped artists from practicing and making their art, it has shut down much of their income as show after show, and event after event have been called off. Abrams saw an opportunity to coalesce these new facts of life: artists need money to pay rent, but they also feel a need to create and share art, to help people emotionally and mentally get through this period of self isolation and anxiety. 

The result? Abrams has established the Louisville Artist Network, in partnership with the city and Kentucky Performing Arts.

Credit: Facebook

A Role To Play

Later this month, the Louisville Artist Network will begin offering “micro-commissions” for artists 18 and older living in the Greater Louisville Area. 

Anyone of any kind of artistic discipline can apply, Abrams said. 

Artists will submit proposals for original virtual works. Artists who are selected will receive $150 to $200 and three days to create that work. The art will be available on social media.

“These are not big numbers,” Abrams said. “But they are numbers.”

Abrams said it's important to be sensitive to the immediate needs of the pandemic, but he also insists that art can, and will, play a critical role in the recovery process. The arts have transcended previous pandemics, wars and other crises, defining those eras and giving people hope. He sees the Louisville Artist Network playing a similar role in this crisis.

“When this is over, people will need something to rebuild for,” he said. “Art and culture serves to give us possibilities and to suggest what we might be able to do and suggest that we have a strength and a kind of communion that we serve together, and that inspires people to want to rebuild and to grow.” 

They’ve raised about $30,000 in private donations to support the program for several months. One of the initiative's supporters is Louisville-born filmmaker Owsley Brown

The initiative is part of a larger city project called, “Lift Up Lou,” with the goal of boosting community morale during the pandemic.

"We've been saying throughout this crisis that something good can always come out of something bad," Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to seeing local artists take advantage of the platforms on 'Lift Up Lou.' The arts are critical to keep our minds at ease, and it will be essential to helping us heal once COVOID-19 departs our community.”

In a 2010 article published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers noted that engaging with art has shown to have a positive impact on mental health: music may help calm people feeling anxious, creating art can be an outlet for grief, and the act of moving or dancing can “promote well being.” 

“This is just such a dark time and to be able to have these moments of clarity and creativity, I think is so important,” said Erin Palmer, senior programming manager with Kentucky Performing Arts.  

She added that it’s also important to make “sure that artists are valued for what they are creating.”

Palmer will also sit on the committee that will select the artists for the Louisville Artist Network, and she’s “excited to see how people can get collaborative apart, to come together while they're physically apart.” 

'At Home' Concerts

On Wednesday, Kentucky Performing Arts announced its own program to pay artists for their work called #KPAatHome. 

Every day, starting on April 5, KPA will stream a 30-minute performance from a Kentucky artist on the organization’s Facebook page. Each virtual performance will take place at 8 p.m. and participating artists will receive $75 dollars per show.

“And we are encouraging artists in the middle of the set and at the end of the set to list where they can accept tips via PayPal or Venmo,” Palmer said. 

The virtual lineup already includes Jecorey “1200” Arthur, Greg and Abigail Maupin, cellist and composer Ben Sollee and Americana artist Brigid Kaelin.

Palmer said they’re exploring how to open this up to larger ensemble presentations and they’re also toying with different ways to involve the virtual audiences, like voting on song choices or getting everyone involved in an online dance party, “so it's a little bit more engaging than perhaps a passive kind of just watching online.”

KPA has repurposed an undisclosed amount of funds from the Brown-Forman Foundation to cover the cost of this initiative for at least 30 days. 

'A Shift' In The Arts' Way Of Thinking

Teddy Abrams thinks “everything will change” when the pandemic ends, including how the arts does business and embraces technology.

“It's a guarantee,” he said. “The question will be more are we going to make sure that when these changes take place, that [the arts} have a role in shaping them…the gift of this terrible tragedy is that, for once, we can sit back and try things and not worry about whether they are done perfectly.”

It's actually something he's been thinking about on a smaller scale when he plays those Facebook concerts, less concerned about making mistakes as, day-by-day, he chips away at the various sections of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” He thinks this enduring work, which is  notoriously difficult to play, is also appropriate for the times

“It has power and it transcends time,” he said. “I think that there is something very reassuring knowing that that music has sustained world wars, it has sustained other pandemics, it has sustained the rise and fall of numerous countries.”