How Artists are Dealing with Coronavirus Cancellations

Artwork Archive | March 27, 2020 (Updated September 20, 2022)

Photo by SWAG Style on Unsplash

With the Coronavirus outbreak changing the way everyone in the world is working and living their daily lives, artists are learning to adapt to a “new normal” as art fairs, exhibitions and workshops are indefinitely put on hold. 

COVID-19 has already rapidly changed the way that everyone—including artists and creative freelancers—will conduct business this year.

In an effort to understand how art careers are changing due to the Coronavirus, we asked artists how the outbreak has affected their careers and how they are planning to alter the way they approach their art businesses. 

What we found is that there were many commonalities in how artists were responding to the shifting professional landscape around them. While all the artists we spoke with experienced a level of loss from sales, delayed workshops, and cancelled openings, they were already planning ways to innovate and move their careers online. 

Here are just some of the ways that artists have begun to change the way they run their art business during this time, and how you can too. 

Strengthen your online presence

In response to cancelled art shows, exhibits, conferences, workshops, and coaching sessions, artists are taking a positive approach to overcoming the challenges of the Coronavirus. 

Visual artist Helen Klebesadel told us that she plans to focus more on online creativity coaching. “I will focus less on in-person teaching and creativity coaching for money, but will offer some online options,” she said in response to how she would be adjusting her art business in the face of the obstacles presented by COVID-19.

Klebesadel is already planning for a year with a more limited income, but more time for making artwork. After noticing that some of her students were feeling isolated and afraid, she set up a Facebook group called the "Cabin Fever Creative Community" to share the work that everyone was making during this time of sheltering-in-place.

“I will use this time to finally finish setting up an online watercolor workshop that I have been thinking about for five years,” she added.

Full-time artist Terrill Welch is also taking her workshops online. While she said her art business was already well-positioned to function online with a website, Artwork Archive online gallery, social media following, and newsletter subscribers, she did add one twist to her online offerings as news of workshop cancellations began to spread. 

"I immediately offered 200 seats free in my introductory Independent Study Skill Building Masterclass in oil painting," she told Artwork Archive. This is to support artists and casual painters to get started painting in water-mixable or traditional oils while they are social distancing or self-isolating."

She said it's just a small way that she can support others as an artist during these unprecedented times. 

Increasingly over the last ten years, artists have learned to depend on online tools to run their art business and market their artwork. Now, more than ever, it's time to harness and tap into the power of the internet to make connections and readapt your business to a changing landscape.

What can you do now to strengthen your digital presence?

Here are some concrete ways to strengthen your business through your online presence during this international “pause”.

  • Do a social media audit: Is your information the same across all platforms? Do the links to your social media accounts work? Are your bios strong and accurate? 

  • Offer an online workshop: Tools like Zoom, Facebook Live and even Google Hangouts allow you to teach a workshop from anywhere—even your couch. Here is a full list of tools for you to run your art business, teach online classes, conduct video conferences and more during the time of social distancing.

  • Check-in with your contacts: When did you send out your last newsletter? Is your client list up to date? Have you organized your contacts into groups based on your relationships with them?

  • Create new content: When was the last time you made a time-lapse video of you working on an artwork? Is there something you can teach or share about your process to engage your audience? 

Your online presence is important now and will continue important when we come out of isolation as well. Being online allows you not only the ability to communicate with those around the world also sheltered-in-place, but also creates ways to connect with your audience or with other artists. 


Focus on creating new work

Artists are also using this forced downtime to create new work for the future, experiment with new series, and delve into longer-term projects. 

For visual artist Penny Heather, who is used to ramping up her year around the end of March and the start of April, but saw all of her in-person engagements put on hold indefinitely, she is quickly pivoting her focus. Heather told us her plan is to ramp up her creative productivity for an online market. "In the next couple of weeks, I am going to be maintaining production, focusing on creating new exciting works," Penny told us.

"I will be catering to a lower price point so I can more reliably sell online, which will be my primary market source. I will also try to secure more commission work."

What are the best ways to stay focused during this time?

  • Set aside a dedicated space in your home to make your work. If you have a studio setup that works for you, mimic the layout in your home the best that you can. Work-from-home newbies are advised to create a space that is different enough from their non-work spaces. Set yourself up for success by limiting distractions and attempting to make a separate area where you can create.

  • Create a schedule for yourself to manage your work availability. Artists are used to having non-structured days, but it's even more important now to give yourself a little structure. Can you give yourself a set period of time each day to work on your art? Setting out dedicated time will help you produce and allow you to take a complete break when you aren’t working later in the day. Make sure you are leaving time to do the other things that will keep you healthy during this extended time in isolation. Having structured time for work will allow for time to exercise, make healthy meals, get enough sleep, connect with loved ones, and get outside. 

  • Keep your creative brain active and healthyTake care of yourself to be in a headspace where you will be able to work and create. Make sure that despite the craziness around us, that you are kind to yourself and that you are making sure your needs are met. Participate in online creative prompt challenges to keep exercise your creativity. 


Organize your artworks and studio

If there is something you have always said you'll get around to when you have more time, it's organization.

If you've ever said, "If only I had a week off to just get this all done," now is your time. 

During "normal life" it can be hard to focus your time and attention on organization activities. With deadlines, projects, social commitments, and events, the details often get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. However, getting organized in both your physical studio and your business can help freshen up your art career and lay a solid foundation for when we are back to "normal."

Kristin Krimmel, an independent artist who had an exhibition close midway through the show is now working on getting organized. “I am self-isolating," she said, "so I can spend more time at home reorganizing my studio and storage space, paint more, keep in contact with my art friends and fans, re-organize, think and read more.” 

What's the best plan of attack for organizing your workspace and business?

  • Get rid of what you can. Sometimes the designated space for something is in the trash or recycling. Maybe it’s time to detox your studio of harmful chemicals. Donate materials that you never use. The less clutter you have, the less you have to organize and the freer you’ll be to create.

  • Designate a place. A sure-fire way to stay organized is by making sure every paintbrush, every piece of mail, or finished artwork has a designated space to call home in your studio or temporary studio. Tools you use often should be easy to reach. Try making a pegboard for your studio tools. Pegboards make it easy to see and put back all your tools, they use space wisely with vertical storage, and they are inexpensive—win, win, win.

  • Conduct an artwork inventory. If you are like most artists, you most likely have bits and pieces of this information all over the place. You have information on your website, at your galleries, in past publications, on your social media, and in your own records. Take organization to the next level by using a cloud-based system like Artwork Archive that keeps track of all your artworks, details and business details online helps you focus on what really matters in your career—plus, it's free for 14 days. 

  • Document your past exhibitions. You can't currently have in-person shows, but you should be keeping up to date on the shows you have participated in the past. The longer your career, the harder it is to remember past shows and exhibitions. Update your CV with your past shows and enter them in your inventory system to build provenance on your artworks. 

When everything is organized, you’ll be able to run your art business more effectively and have more room for creativity. You’ll be able to keep on top of projects and deadlines, give buyers, gallerists, and collectors the information they need to work with you and feel more in control of your art career. 


Think about how to use your skills to contribute

If you have spare time, energy, or resources, think about how you can contribute to connect with and help other people during this crisis. 

As artists, we want to maintain a healthy and strong art community. 

Danielle Ziss, an artist, writer, and director who had all of her work indefinitely halted until at least May told us that she will be partnering with local nonprofits to provide online platforms for artists to show their work. She said she is, “a strong believer in making the best of any situation. When people have outlets to express themselves, they will experience less fear.” She hopes that partnering with nonprofits will allow a bigger platform for artists. With a larger audience, Ziss hopes that virtual performances and online art showcases will become an opportunity to fundraise money to support artists without income during this time. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself during this time.

  • What skills do I have that I could help share with others right now?

  • What information can I share to help support others?

  • In what ways can I use my artwork and skills to help brighten the world around me?

  • If I am in a place financially to offer support, how can I do this? Can I offer free seats in a class or organize a fundraiser?

  • Which groups can I partner with to provide support or aid?

  • Is there a crowdfunded site already in my local region?

To get you started, you can share these financial relief resources for artists experiencing the effects of COVID-19.


Create community & connection through art

The arts have always brought us together. Artists continue to innovate in the face of recent challenges and inspire the world around them to find new ways of connecting. 

One such artist that is responding with her community in mind is visual artist Victoria Helena. In the face of lost wages and delayed work, she launched a global collaborative art project called The Co19 Project. Her project works to collect and share creative expressions around the world.

Other artists are connecting digitally through online lessons and by creating resources for their communities. Janet Sellers, a fine artist who was forced to cancel all of her teaching engagements due to COVID-19 is adapting to this difficult time by going online.

“I will be sending out emails and teaching on Facebook and other places like The students have enjoyed it enormously I think because they need something to do. I'm also creating coloring pages for people to buy and download to keep themselves and their kids busy and have fun.” 

While we might not be able to gather physically, we can still be together and foster meaningful community from a distance. 

How can you create connections in your community through art?

  • Practice your digital handshake by reaching out to and connecting with artists and art groups that you respect. Make a list of groups that you are interested in, write an intro email and ask if you can be a part of their COVID-19 programming. Or, use this time to build out a list of people you plan to contact in the future. 

  • Plan out connections and collaborations digitally by finding like-minded artists. Propose a mini art-in-isolation type of collective. Use the art community to continue to inspire and motivate you.

  • Seek out supportive groups. Join webinars, digital art critiques, remote book clubs, and create online versions of studio visits for the public. Just because the world has slowed down doesn’t mean that you have to lose your community.

Record your artistic legacy

You'll want to ensure that your life and work as an artist are remembered and written into history. You devote their life to their work, spending decades honing your craft and producing works of art, putting your heart and soul into what you create. 

By building a comprehensive inventory and documenting your life’s work and story, you will ensure that your legacy lives on—plus, it’s something you can work on while you have downtime at home.

So, how do we ensure that your life's work is not forgotten in a pile of cardboard boxes at the back of a studio?

How do we record our artwork, vision and voice to be remembered for generations to come?

How do we keep the burden of protecting your legacy from resting on your family’s shoulders?

Preserve your legacy as an artist should start with a complete and detailed record of your art inventory.

When it comes to archiving your artwork, here are steps you can take to get started:

  • Record the title, medium, dimensions, and creation date along with high-quality photographs for each artwork. You may also want to consider recording the original selling price, inventory number, and any other vital information about its creation or sale.

  • Choose a program to organize your artworks and manage your inventory. Artwork Archive is an online inventory system designed to help artists keep and manage a complete catalog of their artworks in order to preserve their artistic legacy. 

  • Think beyond the titles and dimensions, in order to record your artist legacy in a more comprehensive way. “Vision, technique, process—they are all essential to understanding an artist’s lifetime and legacy,” explains CERF+’s Mark Leach. "Authentic artistic legacy is reflected in and through an artist’s actions, words and thought. Together, these provide the public with a close sense of the artists’ peculiarities of style, technique, and influences."


Plan for the future

While we aren't quite sure when things will return to "normal," it's always a good idea to plan for the future.

Even if residency programs in the next few weeks or months might be put on hold, you can take this time to prepare application materials for future use.

Fill out a calendar of various opportunities that you’d like to apply to and make a plan for when you are going to get going on your applications. 

Here are a few resources to help you plan for the future:

  • Review all of your application materials. Revisit your artist statement, bio, CV and resume. Upload your most current version to your Docs section on Artwork Archive to have them ready to apply.  Get tips on writing a strong artist statement here

  • Create a marketing calendar. With possibly more downtime right now, focus on what you can control. You can still make work and you can still create content or campaigns. Plan out the next few months by front-loading your content creation and promotions strategy. Take pictures, create videos of your work, strategize on your next online sales and don't release it all right away. Use the time to build up an online library that you can count on when you get back to a busier studio and exhibition schedule. 

  • Seek out new opportunities. When your regular routine has been shaken up, it's a perfect time to look into doing things differently. Apply for a grant or exhibition to keep things going. Find your next opportunity in the Complete Guide to Artist Grants and Opportunities in 2020.

  • Commit to your goals. As an artist, you’re not only in the business of expressing yourself creatively, but you’re in the business of running a business. Hit the reset on your creative goals with these tips or spend some time filling out these financial goals worksheets.


There are challenges, but artists are innovating

It is no surprise that artists are getting creative with new ways to build community, support themselves and others, and keep creative. 

While the way we are used to doing business in the art world has temporarily changed, artists are finding new ways to innovate, move online, and stay connected. We may be mourning the loss of canceled events, shows, and fairs, but there are new opportunities to connect and bring art to new audiences during this time. 


Looking for resources for artists affected during COVID-19? Check out our resource center for financial grants and articles. 

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