Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) and World Arts West are two organizations who had also been rethinking their models even before the present health crisis. For YBCA’s Deborah Cullinan that means discussion around “what it means to be in relationship with artists, to engage around issues that matter to them, how to be a creative home and a center for the community.” On projects like Come to Your Census, YBCA had already transitioned to working in partnership with a public agency, the SF Office of Immigration and Civic Affairs, around the shared mission of reaching communities that are hardest to count.
Cullinan maintains the “big question is not just how extensive are these impacts going to be (like the hotel tax fund allocation for the arts), and are we going to be smart enough about how we respond with relief and recovery policy, but also how we evolve in terms of our structures. It’s got to be both. I do not believe that we’re waiting it out, to put a Band-Aid on it, then come back… The reality is, we were already in trouble.”
She cites the inspiration of choreographer Liz Lerman, one of YBCA’s senior fellows, with whom YBCA is working to develop an online program to support dancers and choreographers “who need to work and grieve through a process of change and loss to get to the other side… How do you help ritualize and move people through something?”
Lerman, she says, “talks about the idea that we are most inventive when we are trying to survive. We’re making these inventive decisions to stay alive in the moment. At the exact same time when we are inventing new modes, we need to think about the future.”
'New Ways of Working'
World Arts West serves over 450 dance companies around Northern California, including a growing number of young artists—many deeply rooted in specific cultural forms who put their own stamp on innovative work. Exemplifying “living tradition,” as executive director Anne Huang puts it.
In addition to the storytelling and ritual elements of many of these world dances, Huang says there is a strong spiritual side that impacts community health, especially in times of crisis. “Because their everyday world is falling apart, they reach back to the collective faith of the community, which can be extremely grounding.”
The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival has traditionally provided World Arts West's artists with a way to network and collaborate on cross-cultural creations. But the organization seeks to sustain their livelihoods more broadly, by getting them tools such as workspace resources, contract management, and grant writing support—and, in the pandemic, helping to get their classes online.
World Arts West is developing festival contingency plans, while releasing content from its archives of over 40 years of world dance. Meanwhile, Huang says, “Some artists are telling me, I’m giving online classes and I didn’t know I have fans and students from other states and countries! After COVID, what does this revenue stream look like: teaching local classes as well as online classes all around the world. I feel we’re going to emerge from this crisis not just a changed nation, a changed world but with new ways of working, of earning revenue.”