By Andrew Checchia
Timeliness. Though evocative on its own, the word has grown deeply nuanced throughout a pandemic defined by a collective sense of bad timing.
There could never be a “good time” for a global health crisis to hit, but the droves of floundering students, unemployed workers and starving artists will undoubtedly agree that now was an especially bad moment to put life on hold. It accelerated a reckoning with our national identity around the election, with the implications of a digitally steeped culture and with gripping concerns for the future of the planet.
But those big ideas don’t just wash over us like water over a sponge. As artists are constantly aware, even this unfortunate timeliness presents an opportunity for growth. Leaning into that reckoning can produce profound statements on the concerns of the moment. So, as the state finds ways to safely reintroduce social gatherings, turn to the work of the isolated artists if you want to start thinking about solutions to these big, pandemic-era problems.
In the Airpark, the Kierland POP festival plans to return to the Kierland Commons and the Westin Kierland from November 13 to 15. Those soon-to-be featured artists—cooped up for months without alternatives to digital distribution—can finally present their in-person visual, musical and performance pieces with proper distancing guidelines.
“I think the most important thing is to stress how important it is to support local artists in some capacity,” says Kate Marquez, the executive director of the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance (SAACA).
While other festivals struggle to find ways to safely change their programming, Marquez and the team organizing Kierland POP found easy adjustments to bring back the local artist-centric weekend. The changes first include an extension of the timeframe. Now the weekend programming will kick off with a 5K night run on Friday, November 13. The ticketed run will take place around the Westin Kierland Golf Club, with appropriate safety guidelines (like a distanced, staggered start) for anyone looking to walk or run the course in the cool fall weather. And the proceeds from the $25 entry price will go directly to Don’t Be A Chump, Check For A Lump, a local breast cancer charity.
“For our organization in particular, it was hard to make the transition quickly. It really challenged us,” Marquez says of SAACA’s transition to pandemic planning. “This opportunity, though, we thought there was an ability to keep alive.”
More than just keeping it alive, the Kierland POP festival’s central two days of celebration, November 14 and 15, will bring dozens of artists to the area for nonstop exhibitions. Uniquely for the Kierland event, subtitled an “art in unexpected places festival,” it focuses on pop-up art—unexpected performances that can happen at any time or any place around the festival grounds.
“You’ll be dining at one of the restaurants and a theater performance can happen right next to you,” says Marquez about the pop-up focus. “(We’re) really focusing on art in unexpected places.”
The Vessel Project, one of the many performance groups to attend the festival in years past, captures this spur-of-the-moment mentality. As an “ethereal pop-up art experience,” they’ve always brought timely, exciting performances to the festival, and this year they hope to bring the feelings and imagery of the pandemic into their exhibition. From built-in masks to hoops that actually mark the necessary space for social distancing, they encapsulate how artists are adapting their work to comment on the current state of affairs.
But not all artists have that opportunity. Marquez and others with their attention turned to the national arts landscape already see significant devastation at the level of creators and institutions.
Unlike adaptable workers or online students, artists—especially those based around performance or in-person visual experiences—simply have no alternative. Without the limited but expected revenue of a small market, a local gig or a museum placement, revenue streams dried up almost instantly. Digital avenues present exciting and innovative opportunities, but not all kinds of performance are conducive to a YouTube video or a Zoom livestream.
“Whether they’re supporting from home or in person, the most important thing is to remember how decimated the arts industry has been,” Marquez says. “Early estimates are showing 50% closure (of arts spaces). The arts will be affected hard and long.”
Still, the deepest valley of doom and gloom during COVID-19’s harshest throes may be behind us. Fear over a second wave and the general uncertainty around this all-too-timely pandemic justifiably cloud the future, but for those comfortable with reentering social spaces, supporting the arts right now could save countless artists’ livelihoods. And the Kierland POP festival will still feature a set of online programming (including livestreams and an online storefront) for those wanting to help from home.
“The arts have kept us alive through the pandemic. The arts are the fabric of what’s allowed us to stay connected,” Marquez says of the continued importance of creativity.
So, as creative work catches up with this virus’ timely devastation, it too will comment on the significant troubles highlighted across our society. Right now, we can all do our part to help keep them going long enough to produce the next great work that will do it. ν
Kierland POP, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, November 14, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, November 15, Kierland Commons’ Main Street, 15205 N. Kierland Boulevard, Scottdale, kierlandpop.com.