Can creative communities survive coronavirus?

Kt McBratney
Seed&Spark: Sparking Conversation
4 min readMar 12, 2020
Italian musicians play to an empty house due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo via New York Times)

When it comes to figurative damage, the biggest casualty of coronavirus might be the creative community.

Because while the current economic uncertainty has everyone alarmed, the impact of social distancing and closures will hit this ecosystem early on in the form of lost wages and then in a lasting way as the broader economy suffers. In technical terms, it’s gonna hit creators hard.

Yes, creators will always survive; that’s what we do. We might be starving artists, but we’re still artists! But the creative ecosystem made up of performers, crew and operators of all kinds, arts organizations that rely on events for fundraising, small venues, publishers, distribution companies and platforms that operate on small margins and tight timelines? For them, this could be a mass extinction event. As Baratunde Thurston so marvelously put it in his must-read on COVID-19’s cancel culture “When we suddenly reduce the ability of people to physically gather, we short circuit a part of our society.”

Storytelling is perhaps the original gig economy.

Storytelling is perhaps the original gig economy. Musicians, dancers, photographers, acrobats, illustrators, visual notetakers — it’s almost all gig-based. We’re already seeing a decline in spending at restaurants and the global box office. It’s not the A-list celebs who this is putting in jeopardy. It’s the hair and makeup artist. The local caterer doing craft services on the big production coming through town. The actor who also manages a cafe. The production assistant working as much for experience as for pay. These aren’t the ones making the big bucks — the median annual income for an actor is $50,529, and a PA earns an average of $36,246 per year. They are just people working to make a living and maybe afford a decent vacation one day, not people looking to buy a third vacation home.

This fallout isn’t limited to film. Storytelling at an industry level is at risk precisely because both the production of and the consumption of the good require lots of people in a small space. Musicians rehearse, record and perform in groups — social gatherings are a structural component of doing the work. And while you might argue in-person production isn’t mandatory for all mediums, like a novel that can be created with fewer face-to-face interactions, in-person experiences like book readings are foundational in an effective independent promotion strategy. Additionally, the arts organizations that rely on in-person events for programming, fundraising and revenue —like non-profits and film festivals —are in the same bind as the creators they serve.

The creative community is set up to be squeezed on both sides. And not in a nice way, like a hug. This is gonna hurt.

What I picture when thinking of the economic squeeze facing creators. (gif credit Sanbles)

Silver lining time: recognizing this potential future is actually a good thing, because it puts us in the position to act thoughtfully to not just shore up short-term support (which is super important) but to build more lasting mechanisms, pathways and connections for creative sustainability (arguably more super important).

As crowdfunding rose from the ashes of the 2008–2009 financial crisis, creative sustainability can be the phoenix of 2020.

As crowdfunding rose from the ashes of the 2008–2009 financial crisis, creative sustainability can be the phoenix of 2020. We’ve witnessed the power of this firsthand with our Creative Sustainability Summits over the past year, in the years (!) of ongoing support within Hometown Heroes cohorts and in spending time on the ground in dozens of local creative communities like Winston-Salem, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

That’s what is fueling the fire of team Seed&Spark today— the promise and power of creative sustainability. The very fact that the past 7 years of building the crowdfunding platform with the highest success rate for creative works, cultivating relationships with literally hundreds of arts organizations, and connecting creators and audiences across the country puts us in a unique place of value and leadership at a time the storytelling community needs us.

We have been traveling the country shouting from the rooftops that creative sustainability requires abandoning the Hollywood myth that if you’re just special enough there where be someone there to pick you. Hollywood manufactured a culture of scarcity that made it so most independent creators feel utterly alone. We heard this, we saw this, we felt this. (It’s literally part of our origin story.) As an antidote to this manufactured scarcity, we’ve been advocating for building strong local communities in every step of your creative work since day one of Seed&Spark. But now there is a very real scarcity problem. And now, it will absolutely require investment in local communities and working together in order to overcome this next very painful stretch. Acknowledging the threat to creative communities and coming together to building new and optimized structures for creative sustainability, we have the best chances of not just surviving, but lasting.

Getting over this next hurdle is going to take collaboration across disciplines, and businesses, even with perceived competitors if we’re going to weather this well. If you’re working on solutions, let us know what we can do to support. And next week (we hope) to be ready to start talking about what we’re doing too. Let’s make it happen together.



Kt McBratney
Seed&Spark: Sparking Conversation

co-founder & chief brand officer @OwnTrail. aspiring jungle cruise skipper. @k_to_the_t.