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Tough Times for the Arts

It’s always has been tough for the arts in America. Most of us have some idea why this is so, from lack of government support of the arts, to budget cuts in public education, and so on. But now, of course, it’s much worse for the arts.

Because of the coronavirus, these local west Florida art venues are temporarily closed: The Museum of Fine Arts (St. Petersburg), Tampa Museum of Art; the Florida Holocaust Museum, Tampa Bay History Center, the Dali Museum, James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, the Ringling Museum, the Polk Museum of Art, and St. Petersburg Museum of History. Performing arts centers are affected too: Ruth Eckerd Hall, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the Mahaffey Theater. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Even local venues are hard-hit. Drive-in theaters, of which there are still seven in Florida, are also closed. It seems illogical since people can be effectively isolated in their cars, but then there is the problem of those concession stands. Who’s going to keep a respective distance while buying popcorn and pizza?

What is Next?

My wife Cheryl and I composed the above shots at the Ruskin drive-in theater after we saw these uneasy words on their marquee. We are both outraged and saddened by this development. Who knows if this theatre, which has been around since the 50s, will ever recover? How long can these family-owned art businesses hold on before monthly bills start huffing and puffing at their gates?

Aside from the obvious impact of their closure on the artists and employees of these art centers, the effect on society may be harder to measure. But it too is palpable. The arts obviously enrich life and we can keenly feel their absence. People are having to resort to sitting in front of their televisions more and listening to recorded music for their art fixes. Maybe they’re reading more books? Who knows? Ask any theater-goer, opera attendee, or movie patron, and they’ll probably tell you something about the greatness of communal art experiences. Like viewing art in a museum or attending a performance. When I go to art museums, I turn to strangers and talk about the pieces. People tend to more open to talk in these situations, perhaps because there’re fewer troublesome sorts attending art exhibitions. Publicly-attended art is so irreplaceable that there is no doubt that it increases the width of life. As they say in Spain, “life is short but very wide.” Perhaps when this whole damned mess is over, people will support the arts more vigorously than they had in the past. I know we will.

Joni Mitchell was right. You really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

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Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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