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Stages of Grief

History will recall: ACT UP, COVID-19, and the arts

For those who make, or might once have made, a living as artists, the pandemic and the economic depression that followed it took away two vital sources of revenue: in-person events and day jobs that sustained creative endeavors. Yet, as William Deresiewicz describes in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, all sectors of the arts economy were already vulnerable for collapse: years of declining public arts funding and education, as well as the rise of “free content,” had fundamentally destabilized the ability for expression.

The ways in which COVID-19 sharpened and highlighted existing social failures harkens back to another global health crisis: the AIDS epidemic. Writer, activist, and historian Sarah Schulman’s newest book, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993, tells the story of activists who waged some of the most effective political campaigns of the century to force politicians, the populace, and drug companies into acknowledging and addressing AIDS. An excerpt of Let the Record Show also appears in the June issue.

In this episode of the podcast, web editor Violet Lucca moderates a conversation between Sarah Schulman and William Deresiewicz, author of The Death of the Artist, exploring links between the two crises. Among other topics, they discuss the aesthetic and societal costs of confining art making to the margins of the workday, the new challenges of organizing against Big Tech, and the value of artists to social movements.

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April 2016

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