If you’re a music lover in the Cambridge area, then you’re probably familiar with the nonprofit Passim in some capacity—whether it’s their live shows at Club Passim, their music school, or their local festivals. But now they’re trying something completely new: the virtual Keep Your Distance Festival, featuring artists like Mark Erelli and Stephen Kellogg, among others.
Passim’s goal is to promote the performance arts by bringing them into the community. But, in a time like this, they can’t do so without the support of the community in return.
Passim decided to close and cancel all shows through April 6 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This decision, though necessary, has already had a significant impact on the local musicians who rely on the income from gigs and music lessons held at the venue.
Keep Your Distance Festival is a way for these artists to practice social distancing while also performing in their at-home videos posted to the event playlist on Youtube. The hope for the festival is to promote these artists and bring awareness to the Passim Emergency Artist Relief (PEAR) Fund.
“We started to brainstorm on ways that we could help the artist community because it was clear that those people were going to suffer the most,” says Jim Wooster, the executive director of Passim. “So, we started an emergency relief fund called the PEAR fund to start raising money for them and set up an application process so that artists could apply for small grants to help replace some of their lost income.”
This fund is open to applicants who had a gig within the past ten years, and those whose concert canceled due to COVID-19. However, Passim makes one request: They must be willing to participate in the Keep Your Distance Festival.
As of now, there have been about 60 artists who submitted videos to the event playlist, and the number keeps growing. With the help of the participants, so far, the PEAR fund has raised somewhere between $20 and $25 thousand, and the first artist checks will be sent this week. But, according to Wooster, there are no signs of stopping anytime soon.
“We’re gonna keep this open as long as we have to, as long as there’s a need,” he says. “We’re making use of the time to support the fund.”
The Keep Your Distance Fest does more than raise money for artists. It also brings a sense of hope and togetherness to the community.
“Music is something we all love, and it brings us together,” Wooster says. “I do think it gives us some hope to know that everybody’s still out there, everybody’s still working on their music craft.”
The Keep Your Distance Festival is not the only event Passim has planned. Wooster says Passim is encouraging artists to stream shows with the nonprofit as often as possible. To alert Passim members of these online concerts, emails will be sent out beforehand so that they know to tune in from home.
“These streaming concerts give us an opportunity to raise a little bit of money, both for us and for the artists,” he adds.
Since Passim has not laid anyone off, they also have to pay their staff in addition to paying artists. The best way to keep the payroll coming is to use the resources they have.
In these dark times, Wooster found a way to look at things positively.
“I think through this, everybody is realizing how important music and artists are to our sanity and our collective society,” he says. “With any luck, there will be an even greater appreciation for what artists bring to the table. And when we get back to normal, with any luck, that’ll mean more opportunities and potentially more income for artists.”
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