Op-Ed: Gig Economy Work during a Pandemic

Words and Images courtesy of Moriah Joy.

When you decide to get a degree in theatre performance, or really any liberal art, there’s at least one person who jokes, “Oh, so you want to be a professional waitress?” While this statement is meant to be jovial, there is some harsh truth to it. If someone is not born into a trust fund, or upper class society, and wants to pursue a career in the arts, they’ll have to work twice as hard to achieve the dreams others bought. Personally in pursuing my passion for the arts, I’ve found myself usually working two to five jobs at a time just to get by.

Typically, most individuals who work in the arts industry fall in line with the same work mentality, this is most commonly known as the gig economy. While the term may not sound altogether familiar, you may interact with these types of jobs more than you realize, as they affect more than just artists. If your child takes private lessons, if you have your groceries delivered, if you do a photoshoot for a special occasion, then you are supporting gig economy workers. When looking at the importance of gig economy workers, they made up approximately 34% of the economy as of 2017 and were expected to grow to almost 43% this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Moriah and friends are in a theater sitting on the edge of the stage rehearsing for a play

Running “side hustles” for many people often stems from the desire to have a little extra pocket cash, or more than likely, is a necessity when trying to make ends meet. However, if you are an artist of any kind then there’s a huge chance that your entire career will be “gig” based. This is such an integral part of being an artist, that it was required as a class at my college before people were allowed to graduate. The reason this knowledge is instilled into so many artists and designers, is because they rely upon venues and special events to take place in order to work. (Editor’s note: The author is VERY lucky her college chose that path. Most colleges currently do not, and there is constant discussion in our profession about how much of a disservice this is to students, and how many issues this can cause as young professionals struggle to start their careers.)

There are a few reasons why the gig economy has become such a huge facet of our society, one of the main reasons is how companies approach the treatment of their employees. Instead of working for one company from college to retirement, as was promised to so many of my generation, many have settled for part time employment or created their own by whatever means necessary. With fewer jobs guaranteeing health insurance or other common benefits that used to come with working in a longstanding career, it makes sense for more people to become their own boss. (Editor’s Note: This became especially prevalent for those who graduated and started their careers in the years surrounding the Great Recession. The ACA opened up doors for many of us to be able to afford our own health insurance, and leave jobs which hadn’t given us raises in years, or worse, had cut our pay multiple times since we started working for them.) 

Another reason the gig economy has become prevalent is because people are finding ways to make their hobbies profitable. Oftentimes, people will find out that the thing they believed to just be an interest, like baking, can be quite lucrative and end up opening their businesses from there.

The problem then becomes when normal businesses and industries are struggling to stay above water with a pandemic, how does the individual rise above and survive? Especially when before the pandemic 50% of freelance workers were having difficulty getting paid for already completed work.

According to the Virginia Unemployment Commission, the Hampton Roads Area currently has one of the highest rates of people still filing for unemployment in Virginia, in addition to the highest growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state and more restrictions added to our area. We as a community need to be mindful of those who are still working and risking their lives during this time to provide for their families and do our part to help those who are unable to do so at this time. It can be as simple as donating at the food bank, writing a letter to local or state government officials, or donating to a non-profit. (Editor’s note: As a gig worker who did not qualify for unemployment or the PUI because, though I lost multiple paying part time gigs, I still have one single part time job that is still going, I have personally received meals and food from family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers during this time. Some of them were able to keep their jobs and work from home, and can afford it, some of them are on unemployment themselves. But one of the most touching things this crisis has brought up, and the ONLY way we will get through this, is by being kind and generous to each other.)

Moriah at her graduation holding signs that say "Thanks, Mom" and "Thanks, Dad"

While for many people the arts seem like something frivolous, but they are a necessity to society. Necessary not only in the way of connecting us to each other and being able to communicate the human experience, but also as a huge section of the economy. In Virginia Beach alone, the arts account for approximately $87.7 million in revenue yearly. Think of the joy you feel at night going to see a show or a movie or turning on your favorite program to share with your children or significant other. The overwhelming emotion you felt the first time you looked at a piece of art that truly moved you. All of these experiences will be lost on the next generation if we are not careful about how we navigate these difficult times.

Are you a member of the gig economy? Over the next couple of weeks my hope is to share with you the stories or other artists and gig economy workers, to put faces to the numbers and to show the vibrant community of artists and gig workers right here in the Hampton Roads Area. Email us to be included in this series.

Op-Ed: Pride in COVID Times

Words by Christopher Bernhardt.
Image by BA Ciccolella.

“What does Pride mean to you?” That is the usual question and marketing scheme that most, if not all, of the LGBTQ community is asked during the Summer months, specifically the month of June. For many of us, that answer varies. For some, Pride is the celebrations and the parades and the parties that mark a right of passage for them finding and becoming their true self. For others, Pride is the time of year where the community normally feels more acknowledged and seen. In recent history, Pride has been a time where the LGBTQ community and their allies can come together as one and acknowledge how much our society has changed and grown. But this year was different, when the world shut down in March, everything came screeching to a halt. As we continued to quarantine and started to figure out ways to live with the new normal that is our society, it became clear that Pride would be different this year and the changes to come in our world could impact how we celebrate for many years to come. Without the parades and the celebrations, Pride was able to take on a different meaning this year, one that was based on history, on where we came from, and made us see how far we still have to go.

For me, this year allowed me to focus on the beginning. On the people who came before me and the changes that they fought for to help create what we have today. The injustices and the wrongs that a throw of a single brick helped to shatter, and how these sacrifices continue to impact who and what we are. The pioneers of Stonewall are the “forefathers” of our modern-day Pride celebrations. They are the ones who were the first to say, “I’ve had enough”, to stand up for who they are, and take Pride in the life that they were living. They were tired of hiding in the closet and being persecuted for being who they were. With all the things going on, focusing on our history seemed more poignant and important this year than previously. In the past few years, we had come so far, with marriage equality and advances in protections for the LGBTQ community. However, with changes in legislation and the events surrounding the Black Lives Matter protest all around the world, it felt like there was a bigger and more important impact. A reason to understand what Pride means, and why it is important for each and every one of us to let our voices be heard, and to stand up in solidarity with everyone who has ever faced or is currently facing an injustice against who they are because of their sex, skin color, or sexual orientation.

At this same time, I realized there were still things that I was, and still do, take for granted. The supportive family that I have that has always accepted me for who I am. Not having to worry about being thrown out of the house because I was different, or loved someone who society did not think was okay for me to love. Traumas that I have not had to face, diseases I have not had to fight against, and not having to come to terms with finding a home where I am finally loved. But that is what the true meaning of Pride is. That there is a community of people who support each other for who we truly are. Finding our chosen family and knowing that these are the people that will love us no matter what, and be by our side no matter what happens. This community; our family, that supports us and tells us that it is okay to be who we are and to love the skin that we are in. All while we are finding ourselves and learning to love who we are. 

In a time that has been full of so much uncertainty and not having typical Pride celebrations, finding a way to focus on the true meaning of Pride for me has been the best way to focus on my Pride: the Pride in my community, the Pride in myself, and the Pride in every person in my real and chosen families. With this, I challenge everyone to find and talk about your Pride. What does Pride mean to you, and how have you found your way to celebrate Pride without the parties and the parades? Let’s all work together to make sure that Pride stays alive within us all.