My blood pressure shot up Saturday when I read the Sun-Times story about Saint Patrick’s Day partiers, and I got particularly irked by the quote from a health professional who refused to let a pandemic get in the way of his binge drinking. The concept of social distancing isn’t all that radical in the face of uncertain calamity: we isolate ourselves today so we can meet again tomorrow. I love going to shows, movies, museums, and sharing space with an unexpected mix of friends and strangers eager to experience art with others. If holding off for a few weeks curbs the harm that could befall others and ensures we might be able to gather again sooner than later, I’m all for it.
Of course, now there are few opportunities any of us have to potentially run into large groups of people. (I’m writing this the morning of the Illinois primary, which appears to be malfunctioning. I early voted Friday because my polling place had been at a nursing home, and I didn’t want to possibly endanger any of the residents.) So many of us have been affected by the waves of businesses closing because of COVID-19. If you’re reading this, you’re absolutely invested in one or many of the communities that have become vulnerable as their income streams have largely come to a halt. That might mean a musician who provided you with a soothing balm during a tough time can’t live off merch sales on their big spring tour, or the staff at your favorite bar or restaurant where you go to wind down at the end of the week can’t pay rent.
At the very least, you’re invested in the Reader, which has also been affected by COVID-19. Our revenue has taken a dive since most businesses that run ads with us have temporarily closed, and even though we’re transitioning to a new nonprofit model, we still rely on advertising to support our full-time, part-time, and freelance staff. And, right now, we’re in a hard spot.
All of this is to say, that despite the physical distance that separates all of us, I have woken up each day feeling less anxious because I’ve witnessed Chicagoans treat each other with care during a time of great insecurity and instability. Since the Hideout launched a “Virtual Tavern” on GoFundMe last Friday in conjunction with a formal announcement that the bar would be closed the rest of the month, its raised nearly $25,000 for the employees in less than a week. Other venues have followed suit with their own GoFundMe fundraisers to support their staff. Monday morning, the Reader music section started collecting the URLs for these benefits to run online, as an addendum to our critics’ concert previews. We’ve converted the previews to those canceled or postponed shows into record reviews, as a way to encourage our readers to support those musicians online—showing our readers how to financially support the Chicagoans who’d normally work at those shows just made sense. We weren’t the only ones eager to direct locals on how to support the venues they love; on Monday ace musician Spencer Tweedy launched “Chicago Service Relief,” which keeps a running tab of all the fund-raisers for people who work at venues, bars and restaurants, and other area shops.
Other Chicagoans have found other ways to encourage togetherness while we’re apart and support our creative communities. Slo’Mo, the queer-forward party series produced by Reader special events consultant Kristen Kaza, will livestream a dance party from Kaza’s living room tomorrow night. Choreographer Darling Shear (a Reader favorite), will give a couple dance lessons, and Audio Jack and Vitigrrl will spin throughout the night; it runs from 8 PM to midnight CST. Slo’Mo will take $5 donations through Venmo (@slomoparty), and the money will go to the performers, the Whistler, and other local LGBTQ+ artists who’ve lost income due to COVID-19 closures.
Elsewhere, I’ve seen Chicagoans encourage others to start creative projects, and even work on them together (remotely, of course). A few days ago, Marc Fischer of Public Collectors launched Quaranzine, a series of one-page, double-sided zines designed to encourage people to make art. He’s printing copies to distribute once it’s safe to gather again, and in the meantime contributors can share their work on social media. (Full disclosure: I’m working on a Quaranzine issue.)
If you’re a visual artist whose income has taken a hit because of COVID-19, you might be interested in contributing to the Reader‘s coloring book fund-raiser. We’re publishing a coloring book filled with images of Chicago, by Chicagoans, and splitting the proceeds 50/50 between the Reader and the artists. The deadline is tomorrow at 5 PM, so you’ve still got some time to contribute!
Again, we’re in a financial pickle because of COVID-19, and one of the ways you can help us is by becoming a Reader member (I’m working on a monthly playlist series for our members, if that helps encourage you). Or give a one-time donation. Every dollar helps ensure that our staff can continue to work on the quality Reader stories that you look forward to reading in print—or, during times of social isolation, PDF form (it’s pretty fun to go through the PDFs of old issues, regardless of what’s happening in the world). I’ve got faith we can continue to run through this uncertain time, because we’re fortunate enough to have you as a reader.
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