The past few weeks have been a roller coaster—and that’s putting it mildly.

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across the country, we’ve all had to re-evaluate even the most basic aspects of our daily lives, from grocery shopping and visiting family members to, yes, hand washing. These are certainly turbulent times. But while we’re likely to be sheltering in place for a foreseeable future, this crisis has already taught us a few important lessons.

First, when push comes to shove, people care. It’s important that even when this is over we continue to help one another—especially in communities of color where the pandemic’s impact is felt especially sharply. We’ve seen our community come together to support local artists and musicians. We’ve seen volunteers lend helping hands to organizations like the Mid-South Food Bank, which is feeding thousands of families per day. 

Our arts community partner organizations have likewise stepped up to the plate. 

Earlier this week, Memphis Slim House Collaboratory held a Food for the Soul mobile pantry. They partnered with the Mid-South Food Bank and the Stax Museum to serve musicians and neighbors in the Soulsville community of South Memphis. Check out Slim House’s Facebook page for photos from the event! 

We’ve also discovered what we miss the most. 

First, we’ve learned just how critical art is for our collective wellbeing. Odds are good that if you’re reading this, you already understand this on a deep level. When you see a live concert, you become a part of the energy of the crowd, the band, the music itself. Listening to music transports you to another state of mind. Watching a movie you love can completely change the tone of your day. Spending time with a piece of art can alter how you see yourself and the world around you.

Of course, these experiences haven’t completely disappeared. We can still listen to music and watch movies from the comfort of home. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine how we’d all be coping if we couldn’t access these mediums. But for many creators, the pandemic has had an outsized impact on their ability to create the art we depend on in times like these. 

Here are a few of their stories: 

I’ve been planning and prepping for a solo exhibition (my very first!) since October 2019, set to open on April 16th (the week of my birthday) at the Dixon Gallery and Garden. As a full-time employee and a full-time artist, mom, and wife, lots of planning, dedicated resources, and time went into preparing for the show. 

I was excited and nervous because the display of this work was as an act to honor a journey of love and healing, and to invite others to be still long enough to assess the personal effects of dehumanization in their life.

The Dixon is and has been very gracious during this process/pandemic and has offered to still hang my work, but my reality now is that it may be hung without ever having an audience. As I grieved this thought (because really we need to grieve our losses instead of immediately thinking of the next thing) I realized that I had quickly forgotten the true impetus of creating the work and how cathartic and self-soothing the process continues to be for me. 

What I encourage myself and us all to remember is why we create, for whom do we create, and for what purpose.

The pandemic has shifted my thinking on how my work can live with me and beyond me, and it has pushed me to reimagine new life for the work. And truthfully, I’m accepting the fact that I really just want to make cathartic art, thank it (in a Marie Kondo kind of way), and release it back into the world, in whatever way(s) it needs to be. 

–Brittney Bullock, Director of Youth Programs at MMI

***

This pandemic has stopped a few of my shows I had lined up. But on the flip-side, I have produced an instrumental album that is set to release April 17th, 2020 titled Beatstrumental Volume 3. Also, I’ve created a few sample packs to generate money too. I’ve been getting a few calls to mix and master other people’s projects but it’s not consistent enough to fund everything. I’m still creating and searching online for ways to make money with my music. 

–Deminicus “Sunny Dizzle” McKinnon, MMI Fellow serving Grandview Heights Middle School and Overton High School

***

This pandemic has definitely caused my out-of-school programming to come to a screeching halt. The most important thing though is for my family to be safe and to be best prepared for whatever comes next. Myself, Deminicus McKinnon, Quinten Smith, and several of our colleagues in the Memphis music production world created a free “beat tape” called CVS (Coronavirus Sessions), full of instrumentals we all made to help affected songwriters maintain a level of creativity during these difficult times. 

–Ty Boyland, MMI Fellow serving Central High School and Crosstown

***

I have had 4 big-ticket gigs canceled already, and I’m sure my large project for the summer will be canceled as well. My husband and I both rely on performing to make extra money and we are losing thousands of dollars because of COVID-19. However, I am so incredibly thankful for MMI. We are staying positive and finding ways to create art and make money virtually! We are even doing some recorded performances for Opera Memphis! Stay tuned!

–Shannon Lowe, MMI Fellow serving Hickory Ridge Middle School and Soulsville

***

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of human connection. At MMI, we all miss coming into the office and seeing our co-workers every day. We miss visiting students in schools across Shelby County. We miss our Fellows and our community partners. There’s just no substitute for face-to-face interaction, and we can’t wait until we’re able to reconnect in person—whenever that day comes. 

Nevertheless, the work continues. Here’s how we’ve adapted our organizational efforts:

In-Schools 

Shelby County schools may be closed through the end of the semester, but the MMI In-Schools team is hard at work. They are continuing to support our teaching artists in the following ways: 

  • Collecting a list of learning resources for Fellows
  • Connecting Fellows with one another via: 
    • Team calls, including a recent conference with Dr. Dru Davidson
    • Teaching Artist and Education Track training sessions
    • A special Fellows Connect for the Fellows to chat about what they’ve learned from their growth assignments
    • A webinar hosted by the MMI Grantmaking and Capacity Building program on the Federal CARES Act

Some Fellows have also been able to continue working with students remotely. 

MMI Works 

Although in-person student Professional Development sessions, summer internship interviews, and social gatherings aren’t happening quite as planned this year, the Works team has adapted by:

  • Conducting MMI Works 2020 interviews virtually
  • Planning to conduct exit interviews with our 2019-2020 Works participants virtually
  • Planning a Zoom energy-circle (informal check-in) with our participants in the coming weeks
  • Developing contingency plans for the Works summer internship program

 

Grantmaking and Capacity Building

Our Grantmaking and Capacity Building team continues to support our Program Development Institute/Institute for Nonprofit Excellence partners in the following ways: 

  • Providing technical assistance applying for CARES Act and PPP for organizational partners and individual musicians
  • Continuing to convene partners in support of capacity-building and community building
  • Surveying partners on the short-term impact of COVID-19 on community and arts organizations (Press Release)
  • Compiling financial and organizational resources for partner organizations

 

We’re all doing our best. And over the past month, our Memphis community has shown us that our best—even in the midst of a pandemic—is pretty great. Here are just a few of the ways our partner organizations are navigating this strange new territory and finding new ways to connect with Memphis youth.

The Harmonic South Strings Orchestra is now offering online teaching, technique and tutorials. Visit their Facebook page to learn more. 

Young Actors Guild is engaging young people through daily assignments and challenges. They are also offering semi-private virtual ballet classes. Visit their Facebook page to stay up-to-date.

Angel Street recently launched their AngelZone platform. AngelZone is a space for online engagement, music, and vocal training. Read the full announcement here

Cazateatro Bilingual Theatre Group is staying connected to audience members by posting theatrical storytelling online via Facebook Live. Check it out here

Memphis will get through this. In the meantime, here are a few resources, including relief opportunities, information, and more for creatives and community organizations. 

 

COVID-19 Resources

For Creators

 

For Arts and Community Organizations

If you would like to support MMI’s ongoing efforts to invest in youth through transformative music engagement, creating equitable opportunities for black and brown youth in Memphis, please visit memphismusicinitiative.org/how-to-get-involved/give/.