How to Be Kind to Our Artists According to Artist and Curator Kristy Edmunds

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The arts can unite us in difficult times. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve mostly had to enjoy dance, theater, music and other forms of performance from home. What is lost when we cannot gather together and collectively experience art?

This question has been on the mind of artist and curator Kristy Edmunds. As the executive and artistic director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP), she had to quickly pivot her organization in March from live in-person events to digital-only events. CAP UCLA is now in the midst of an ambitious season of free offerings, while preparing for an uncertain future.

“We’re using every tool at our disposal to find ways to carry things forward,” Edmunds said.

In the UCLA Arts podcast "Works In Progress," Edmunds discussed how CAP UCLA has been able to maintain a lifeline for its artists and audiences. She also talked about the role of compassion and care in her work. Edmunds will be a featured panelist in UCLA Arts’ “10 Questions: Reckoning“ live event on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m., responding to the question “What is Kindness?” 

On March 16, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused venues around the country to close, the South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo took to the stage of Royce Hall to perform in front of a dozen audience members and a row of film cameras. Edmunds introduced the band, noting the peculiarity of addressing an empty theater that typically seats 1,800 people. The recording was later posted online and aired on KCRW.

An image from The Choreographers’ Scores: 2020. | Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
An image from The Choreographers’ Scores: 2020. | Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker

In the seven months since that concert, CAP UCLA has been doing “everything we can to migrate what resources we have directly to artists,” Edmunds said, by turning Royce Hall into a film production studio for performing artists. This is happening as ticket revenues, government loans and philanthropic sources of support have largely dried up.

CAP UCLA is also commissioning new work from artists. For The Choreographers’ Scores: 2020, CAP UCLA commissioned 27 choreographers to create a sketch or series of instructions for a future dance project. Each score becomes a fine art limited edition print for sale. The project is meant to raise money for dancers and choreographers while they’re unable to rehearse together in a physical space or go on tour. Each choreographer’s score is “a love letter for the future of their art form,” Edmunds said.

Edmunds also revived The Tune In Festival, a series of prerecorded performances by artists, bands, ensembles and soloists that will screen online for free over the course of four days, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1. Edmunds launched the inaugural festival in 2008 in response to the financial crisis, when she was consulting artistic director at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. 

Watch a preview of The Tune In Festival below.

For this year’s presentation, the artists will collectively address themes of resilience and resistance. The event includes a Pete Seeger tribute concert led by Kronos Quartet, a staged reading of radical writings called “The People Speak,” and performances by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Toshi Reagon, Quetzal and others.

“The concerns are different, but the need to ignite a public to stay strong, feel inspired, share the lyrics and hold each other up is really what The Tune In Festival is doing,” Edmunds said.

As for CAP UCLA’s plans for an uncertain future, Edmunds expects to continue presenting work digitally, even once live larger-scale public gatherings resume. And rather than compete over limited funds and audiences, she said arts organizations are now collaborating to bring artists on stages, film their performances, and distribute them to wider audiences.

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Kristy Edmunds on stage at a “10 Questions” event in 2019. | Phinn Sriployrung/UCLA
Kristy Edmunds on stage at a “10 Questions” event in 2019. | Phinn Sriployrung/UCLA

In smaller ways, Edmunds said she’s been focused on checking in with artists who aren’t able to perform to make sure they’re not forgotten. That’s an idea she’ll explore as a panelist for a discussion centered on the question “What Is Kindness?” The Oct. 26 event, part of UCLA’s arts-led multidisciplinary discussion series “10 Questions: Reckoning,” will consider how kindness, decency and compassion are central to some of the major themes of our time, such as the pandemic, the presidential election, structural racism and climate change. 

For Edmunds, kindness can manifest in the care that artists put into a performance, or the way CAP UCLA offers assistance through an artistic commission or by simply making phone calls and sending flowers to distressed artists.

“There are small things we can do that are helpful to one another. This sense of kindness allows us to still have an increase where we feel absence. And these momentary exchanges are part of our human character,” she said.

On Oct. 26 at 7 p.m., Kristy Edmunds will be a featured panelist in UCLA Arts’ “10 Questions: Reckoning” discussion responding to the question “What is Kindness?” You can register for 10 Questions and watch past panels here.

Top Image: L.A.’s Tonality ensemble records their Tune In Festival performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall. | Phinn Sriployrung/UCLA

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