For local artists, pandemic has created struggles but also a ‘coronaissance’

Gabriel Curry, a local rapper, poses for a photo with his recording set up.

By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor, with photos by Tristan Lorei, contributor

Local rapper Gabriel Curry started using the term “coronaissance” as a joke term with friends as a way to describe the effect that the global pandemic was having on local art and culture.

But it soon became apparent it was more than a joke. Something was happening. 

“I think we’re already starting to see it now, you’re hearing it mentioned in music that’s coming out. It will serve as a reference point, I think,” Curry said of the changes to daily life that are already being referenced by artists and creators. 

The bubonic plague outbreak in the 12th and 13th centuries marked the end of an era for much of Western Europe, and led to the emergence of the renaissance, a time of great progress in literature, music, and visual art. Curry and other local artists believe that this crisis, while significantly less traumatic than the bubonic plague, could have a similar effect on art over the next few months and years. 

Curry has even found his work already impacted by the increased amount of time that he spends at home. 

“I just have way more time to write and come up with concepts for videos,” Curry said. “I’ve been working quite a bit.” 

That greater opportunity for contemplation has been a spark for other Harrisonburg-area artists.  

“It’s given me time to dive deeper into what I’m making, in terms of reading and Googling things and such,” said Levi Ryman, a local painter. “Going so many hours without doing things definitely shows long term.” 

Ryman said he’s usually a “homebody,” so while the pandemic has inspired some changes to his art, they haven’t been as drastic as the shifts for other artists, who have experienced greater disruptions to daily life.

Bridge + Burn warms up in Rawley Springs before they rehearse.

Jenna Bryant, a dancer who is part of the trio Bridge + Burn, also found her group’s work affected by the changes they’ve made to their practices and rehearsals. The trio, who normally spend some rehearsal time outside during the spring and summer, decided to exclusively practice outside once Virginia’s stay-at-home order went into effect. 

“I think it’s helping us to see how important our connection to nature is and how we need to repair that,” said Bryant. 

Maintaining a set rehearsal schedule at the beginning of the pandemic wasn’t always easy, Bryant said, and the group went into a short lull during the beginning of the lockdown. But realizing the group could perform again helped them reestablish a routine. 

“We figured the worst-case scenario would be that we could only have seven people at our performances at a time,” Bryant said. The group has not had any performances since the pandemic began, but say that they’re aiming to start in early Summer. 

Curry was set to perform at the music festival MACROCK in April, which was both a low point but also, in a way, a beginning for him.  

“Not being able to do MACROCK was pretty disappointing,” he said, “but that was also the moment when I was like ‘whoa, this is pretty serious.’” 

All three of the artists agreed that this era will leave a lasting impact on society. Bryant and her group have “only promoting [shows] to people in our network,” in order to keep them safe. Curry said he’s concerned about the music industry’s future as much of it has been “crippled” —  especially for small-label artists who rely on shows and word-of-mouth. 

Levi Ryman sits on a bucket in the middle of his apartment surrounded by his artwork.

Ryman held a more hopeful message for when restrictions recede and old routines resume. 

“I would absolutely say we need to take more time after to take care of other people,” Ryman said. “If you’re in a space where you can kind of take that and help somebody else, go do that.”

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