Smile Politely

Showing up for our cultural cornerstones

We have arrived at a much different place than we were 16 months ago when we wrote about how it was the time to start planning our post-COVID future. Though we are not out of the woods yet, and people still need to get vaccinated, you can feel the energy moving back into our community. In person events are returning, and slowly but surely, we will find ourselves immersed in things again as soon as our respective comfort levels allow it. We’re looking ahead to the summer months where larger-scale gatherings and events are returning, like Boneyard Arts Festival next week.

Though we anxiously await the return of these cultural cornerstones — music venues, festivals, arts organizations, artists, musicians, bookstores — we need to recognize that many are potentially facing dire financial straits. Many have relied on virtual programming to perpetuate what they do throughout those months. We saw so many mainstay events such as Matsuri, PYGMALION, C-U Folk & Roots Festival, and Boneyard do this. The pandemic drastically affected the hospitality industry, which overlaps heavily with these pieces of entertainment and culture that we cherish here in Champaign-Urbana. The industries that are often overlooked as “non-essential” need our attention now that we can safely be participants again. We are prepared to meet the moment to make sure we play our part in their return. 

The survival of many of our cultural beacons is not something we should assume. It was entirely possible that your favorite restaurant, theater, music venue, escape room, or something in between did or could have closed due to the pandemic. We have to act as individuals through attendance and financial support to make sure those things are supported even more now. Ultimately, we see this as an opportunity to further revitalize what we cherish in our two cities because those elements are what we have to celebrate living here.

For many, the result of 16 months of closure is a long road back to rebuilding what once was, let alone building towards a sustainable future. There has been much-needed relief from local (grant programs), state (BIG grants), and federal government (Paycheck Protection Program, Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, Restaurant Revitalization Fund) to help restore some sort of financial solvency to the pillars of our cultural foundation. But that’s not going to cover everything, and we as consumers should expect things to cost a bit more than they once did. We’ve seen the increase in prices for meals at restaurants just a bit. Ticket prices cost a little more for live music than they used to. We have to do more, and then some, through resources we have as individual consumers.

Rebounding from the pandemic’s economic fallout will take time, but we will eventually get to a more sustainable place through engagement and spending. You might be wondering how you can make an impact, or where you come in. We should make as much of an effort as we possibly can to buy tickets we might have hesitated to buy before. We should make an effort to continue to tip well at restaurants, because it’s putting money into servers’ pockets. We should encourage other vaccinated friends to attend performances with us to maximize the collective impact we can have. 

Additionally, and arguably most importantly, we can continue to encourage our city leadership to invest in the arts and cultural components of our community as they so desperately need that support from community leadership. Urbana does it well, but Champaign is a whole other story. But there are new city councils in place, and some fresh perspectives that could be influenced by what we have to say as community members. Funding from America’s Rescue Plan is coming, and the cities have a great opportunity to make a difference. It is easy to doubt that anything will come of it, but this is part of rebounding from the pandemic, and showing up comes in many different forms. 

We all have our strengths and preferences, and while yours might not be emailing your city councilperson in hopes they will increase funding to arts and cultural programs in C-U, it might be heading out to a show at Rose Bowl Tavern or Krannert Center for the Performing Arts now that you are vaccinated and programming is returning. Our individual actions are extremely meaningful, and a little goes a long way.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer.

Top image by Anna Longworth.

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