Artist Spotlight: Chandler O’Leary

Chandler O’Leary, a visual artist, and 2015 GAP recipient, spoke with us about how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted her work and daily life, both financially and emotionally. We are grateful to Chandler for sharing her story with us.  

Chandler is one of many artists that have been impacted by this crisis. To support artists like Chandler and to learn more about Artist Trust’s COVID-19 relief efforts, visit us at https://artisttrust.org/covid-19-response/

“I am currently still making art and in some ways my routine hasn’t changed muchI already worked at home, and I have been juggling my own work and my role of primary caregiver since I gave birth to my son last year. In other ways, though, my routine has changed quite a bit. I used to be able to count on certain “quiet times” where I didn’t receive any emails or calls: especially Friday afternoons and weekends. I used to use those hours for my own personal artwork. But now I’m getting emails and calls at all hours and times, and I’m having to revisit what my boundaries are in order to try to get my own work done. Also, to be perfectly frank, it’s extremely hard to concentrate right now and get “into the zone” with my work, because of all the uncertainty and fear that we’re all dealing with right now. It’s impossible to pretend that any of this is normal and impossible not to worry about how long it’s going to go on—or if our culture/economy will be able to return to anything resembling “normal” in future. I’m trying very hard to stay productive through all this, but it is not easy. Even simple tasks are taking me longer than they normally do, and I really must psych myself up to tackle more difficult creative work or more involved tasks/projects.

I estimate that I have lost at least $5,000 to $6,000 so far, without the ability to make that money back. From postponed events and client projects that have been pushed back, I have at least $7,500 to $12,000 in income that has been delayed (and that I risk not receiving at all if the postponed projects and events do not materialize in the end). I am currently still paying off medical bills from the birth of my son last year—even with insurance on a “Gold” plan, which we sprung for last year knowing that we’d have pregnancy and birth-related costsThe thought that one or more of us might get sick from this virus, in a country where a single medical mishap (even with insurance) can bankrupt a family, is terrifying. 

Among my artist/creative friends, we are trying to keep an ear to the ground for potential client work or other opportunities for each other and have promised to be referrals for one another if that work comes up. We have been doing a bit of shopping for neighbors, sharing recipes (and a bread starter!) with friends, offering to mail supplies to relatives who live far away or in rural areas. My husband and I have been checking in frequently on older friends and family, as well as loved ones who live alone  calling, mailing cards, emailing, Facetiming, etc. We have been careful about supporting small businesses whenever we must buy supplies or gifts and spreading our online purchases around so that we can patronize as many different indie businesses as we can, while we still can. I am trying to give social media shout-outs to other artists as well and promoting the work of my friends and colleagues. Each action feels like it’s far too paltry by itself, but I’m hoping that it can have a meaningful cumulative effect. 

To my fellow artists: it might feel a bit weird to promote your work at a time like this, but please keep sharing what you do! The world needs art right now—visual art, music, writing, performance, all of it. We need it to help distract us; to help us make sense of what’s going on; to help us articulate our pain and anger; to help inspire us as we forge our path through this mess. And we artists need to remind the world that all this art is made by actual people—that supporting artists, either by buying art/books/music/media or through signal boosting, is something everyone can do to make a real difference. Your voices are important—please keep raising them.”