Immigrants and in particular undocumented immigrants have been hit hard by COVID-19, often excluded from aid others receive because they are ineligible for unemployment insurance, federal assistance and other support.
Recognizing these challenges, the Center for Traditional Music and Dance has launched a program to support immigrant artists in NYC. Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online, has virtual artist presentations three times a week to spotlight the work of 54 people. Each gets a stipend and performs music, dance or speaks about their cultures and traditional music.
“We don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last,” said Series Director Andrew Colwell. “There are a lot of artists who don’t have a digital presence and use the program.”
Colwell explained that Beat of the Boroughs helps artists citywide, including the Bronx, which has a high immigrant and undocumented population.
Most of the artists are independent contractors, so unemployment is not an option. So, during the past nine months many have struggled and faced hunger and eviction.
One of the artists involved with the program is Marble Hill resident and Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena performer Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera. Gutierrez Rivera, 38, of Marble Hill, has been an artist for 20 years and teaches at a community arts learning program in Harlem. Music runs in her blood as her father is Juan Gutierrez, founder of Los Pleneros de la 21.
Before COVID-19 she was traveling every few days and teaching about Bomba and Plena throughout the country. But now she has adapted.
“I know a lot of folks in the Bomba and Plena community who transitioned to the social media platform,” she explained.
Gutierrez-Rivera expaliend to the Bronx Times that many musicians and artists are now converting their apartments into recording studios. She said the pandemic could be a silver lining because it could this could allow artist to explore themselves and find new innovative ways to make and market music.
As independent artists, no one is becoming millionaires, but now they are struggling even more, she noted. The hope is the Beat of the Boroughs helps them survive COVID-19.
“We’re just trying to brace ourselves,” she said. “I think we will start seeing art has more of a presence online.”