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Long Story Short: Cancellations and communication

3/16/20



The final Babel event, with Colson Whitehead, has been postponed.

Chris Close

 

The arts stand to lose

As everyone knows, many public activities, especially those involving large crowds, have been canceled or postponed. Movie releases are delayed, the NBA and other national sports teams have interrupted their seasons, and big-name music entertainers are rescheduling stadium concerts. Organizations like the NBA may lose millions, but they’ll still be around when the crisis has passed. But many small businesses will not fare so well, among them, artists and arts organizations.

 

I’m painfully aware of the potential harm an extended mass quarantine could have on this valuable community asset. Many, if not most, smaller arts organizations operate close to the bone financially, often depending on regular fundraisers and ticket sales to keep the doors open and pay employees and artists. The arts are a sub-economy within the larger economy that delivers huge value to the region. This sector is exceptionally vulnerable to economic disruptions. 

 

A recent article in Vulture begins, “As concert halls, theaters, and museums around the world go dark, we all need to move quickly to ensure that when it’s finally safe to emerge from our lairs, we still have a cultural life left to go back to. Artists live on the edge, and so do many of the workers who support them: an army of carpenters, ushers, publicists, administrators, stage crew, librarians, costumers, wigmakers, and countless underpaid specialists who have no fallback option.”

 

Trickle down hardship

Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art curator John Massier tells LSS: “The loss of potential income from events is real, particularly fundraising events, though we have not had our come-to-Jesus moment regarding our own end of May auction yet.” Massier goes on to say, “The situation will obviously most impact, say, musicians who travel and tour and rely on that for their living.” Museums and galleries like Hallwalls can mount exhibitions without holding crowded receptions, as Hallwalls did last Friday, but there have also been canceled concerts of touring musicians who rely exclusively on such events for income.

 

In addition, several local arts fundraisers have been pushed back indefinitely. "It's hard to postpone your only fundraiser, especially after months of hard work,” says Alma Carrillo, executive director of Buffalo Arts Studio, whose Live on Five event was scheduled for last Saturday. “And we worry about a recession impacting our general operating funding. The uncertainty is difficult for everyone." CEPA Gallery depends on its biennial auction as a vital source of income, and that has also been postponed. Local theaters are suspending performances, as is the Buffalo Philharmonic. Just Buffalo Literary Center has postponed its two spring Babel events. I’ve heard from frazzled arts workers who have spent the past several days fielding frantic calls, planning strategies to move forward.

 

A ticket to help

Brown Paper Tickets calls itself “the fair-trade ticketing company.” For twenty years it has worked with organizations, large and small to market events. For the first time ever, it recently sent an email to its entire community of fans and supporters asking them to help the “artists, performers, and organizers [who] are in crisis.” One canceled event, the message says, “could mean the difference between making rent and closing the doors forever.” Brown Paper Tickets is urging people to purchase tickets now for future events, which can have a huge impact. You can find a list of events here.

 

The role of the arts

The arts are an important part of a community, especially in Buffalo, which garners positive attention for its rich cultural scene. The arts benefit everyone, including those who don’t utilize them, because they pump $352.1 million annually into the Western New York economy. The people who bring these services to us often do so at significant personal sacrifice.  

 

The public can help. Donate; buy tickets; become a member. And when the postponed events and fundraisers are finally rescheduled, come out and support them.

 

 

In trying times, some try to profit 

Not every business is suffering from the national shut-down. Netflix shares were up 0.8 percent last week. Disney Plus, Comcast’s Peacock, AT&T’s HBO Max and others, will probably follow, as people find ways to entertain themselves under quarantine. The Chief Market Technician at MKM Partners, JC O’Hara, believes Facebook, Amazon, Peloton, and Slack also stand to gain. No doubt, Purell is set to have a good quarter.

 

And here’s some news: Reader’s Digest has a variety of party games you can play with all that toilet paper you horded, after you realize there are no actual shortages. The Anglican Youth Ministry has you covered too, with a Toilet Paper Theme Night that includes such favorites as Toilet Paper Tell All. Gotta hand it to the Anglicans; they know how to have fun.

 

Speaking of toilet paper

As anyone who has been grocery shopping in the past few days knows, supermarkets are doing bang-up business. And while employees of many other businesses face layoffs and loss of income, grocery workers are working overtime. While I stood in an incredibly long line at Wegmans, I talked to a store employee who was also in line at the end of her twelve-hour shift. She cheerfully noted that she’s getting plenty of overtime pay.

 

Robotic support?

Philadelphia-based Promobot, which makes promotional robots, deployed one of their models in Times Square, to demonstrate its potential as a diagnostic tool. The little bot asked people a series of questions to determine if they have symptoms of COVID-19. The company reports that it has since had inquiries from a variety of facilities that are “crowded places.” Of course, if you watch the video, people answer the questions by tapping a screen, a perfect environment for spreading the virus. 

 

Hats off to these guys

Companies are marketing anything they can to panicked consumers. Many items are ostensibly high-tech virus protections—air filtration systems for instance—that are useless for preventing infection. But one company is advertising a low-tech solution for protection against people who cough or sneeze in your face. The Anti-spit Protective Hat is still available, though another version listed as “anti drool anti COVID-19 virus cap” was removed, one of over one-million products Amazon says it yanked from its site for attempting to cash in on the virus by misleading consumers.

 

Strange times

You’re too late too, if you want a souvenir to remember this year’s pandemic or are looking for that perfect COVID-19-themed gift, because many of those items have also been pulled from Etsy. Gone is the personalized, “I survived coronavirus” jewelry cuff, at only $22.95.  Likewise, you missed your chance to snag a “Straight Outta Wuhan” t-shirt. And forget about the “Don’t Cough on Me” coronavirus coffee mug. All removed.

 

Tracking the virus

Last week, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office warned residents about a scam coronavirus tracker website, which was infecting computers with malware. They suggest instead this legitimate tracker from  John Hopkins University.

 

 

Messaging etiquette

There’s been a recent flurry of Facebook and Twitter activity, as politics took a back seat to COVID–19. As anticipated in this column last week, as information was passed along, it became increasingly dire and often inaccurate. We might all be better off if people just went back to bickering over Bernie versus Joe. As Steven Colbert said while facing his first empty audience and pondering whether to talk about the virus, “You don’t want to be part of the hysteria.” But as busy as Facebook and Twitter are these days, another form of social media is finding even greater favor among users.

 

The private message

Personal, private, or direct messaging is preferred by 63 percent of people for sending content or recommendations to anyone in their circle according to research conducted by GlobalWebIndex and WeAreSocial. Based on more than 3,100 internet users, they discovered that private messaging is even preferred over word-of-mouth (at fifty-one percent). Meaning, your friends would probably rather send a message than actually talk to you.

 

Postal messaging

It may be hard for young people to imagine, but before the internet, friends communicated by personal letter. This lovely ritual included writing the heading and dating it, composing the body of the letter, selecting the perfect closing, addressing the envelope, folding the stationery, licking the stamp, and dropping the letter into a post box. It often took a week or more between posting and receiving a reply, while you waited in anticipation. When you got a letter, you read it when you had time, savoring every word if it was from a loved one, then writing back at your convenience. Email sped the process up, but people can still read and respond to those in their own time.

 

By contrast, Facebook’s Instant Messenger (IM) is, well, instant. Messages arrive with a distinctive electronic sound on your phone, watch, or computer mere seconds after they’re sent. For many, the siren song of a fresh communiqué is hard to ignore. How often have you talked to someone, as their eyes moved to their phone to check a message? “Go on,” they’ll say, “I’m listening,” but you know they’re not.

 

Unlike with a letter or email, if you glance at an IM, it tips the sender off that you’ve “seen” it, and for some reason, instant messages demand instant responses. We all know what it’s like having our IM “seen,” without getting an immediate reply. Are they ignoring me? you wonder, unaware that glancing at your message was the last thing they did before the start of their colonoscopy. No one likes being snubbed.

 

Remembering the telephone

When I was young, my parents taught me phone etiquette. “May I ask who’s calling please?” “Do you have time to talk?” And of course: “My mother says I have to get off the phone now.” There were no emojis; if you wanted to indicate that something was funny, you actually laughed out loud. Vocal tone set the context for words. Sarcasm was easily recognized, bluntness was tempered by inflection, impatience could be sensed. Phones were tethered to a wall, and you weren’t always there to get a call.

 

About the only friend I talk to by phone now is my art-studio mate Richard Huntington, who spends winters in Mexico. Calls begin with a status check, “Are you busy?” I often say I am or will be shortly, but I can squeeze in a few minutes to talk. When one of us is ready to end the call, we simply say, “I have to go.” Neat and clean.

 

Messaging etiquette

The decorum for social messaging is not so well-established. Etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore offers a list of texting etiquette tips, which also apply to instant messaging:

•Consider your audience.
•Communicate clearly.
•Respond promptly.
•Use symbols and emojis only when necessary.
•Don't be long-winded.
•Be patient.
•Know when to end the conversation.

 

An inconvenient truth

Instant messages can arrive at any time. I got one last Thursday while I was rebuilding my backyard pond. My hands were dirty and occupied, but I stopped to respond. Then I stopped to respond to the response, and then to another, and another, each time halting my work. Of course, the person on the other end couldn’t have known. Although, in retrospect, I could have sent a selfie of me in my waders cradling a three-pound koi. Hindsight.  

 

I’ve had IM conversations while painting, writing, watching TV, shopping, eating, pulled over on the side of a road, and while accompanying my granddaughter to Explore and More Children’s Museum. She played; I messaged. At one point while I was writing this column, I was simultaneously engaged in three separate IM conversations, resulting in a message being sent to the wrong person, always a risk.  

 

My large fingers are not conducive to typing on phone keyboards. I often use Google voice-to-text, but that frequently results in odd sentence structures, such as, “I love you should be able hooped prints pop be do ostrich feathers Odinga being.” And spell check is forever correcting me incorrectly. Messaging is not a pleasant process, and sometimes conversations just go on too long.

 

Endings

A skill I have yet to fully master is the art of ending an IM conversation. Some people just stop; “disappear,” as I call it, in the middle of a chat. This can be disconcerting. I try not to do the same, but what if a person keeps responding when you’re finished? My customary approach is a variation of the telephone good-bye, where I say I have to go somewhere or have something to do, which honestly, is nearly always true. I’ve been told, however, that this can sound disconcertingly abrupt, something of a brushoff. I’ve tried using the thumb-up emoji as an inferred finale endorsement of all that went before, but that doesn’t always work either. Without the benefit of vocal inflection, almost any method of bringing a conversation to a close has potential drawbacks. There should be an agreed-upon emoji for “I’m done,” a smiley face with X’s for eyes perhaps, or maybe one blowing his brains out.

 

Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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