At the beginning of March, artist and lithography instructor Lanner Diaz had three jobs lined up for 2020. By the end of the month, all offers had been retracted, victims of the coronavirus. “Today, there are no projects, no work,” Diaz, says. “If you’re an artist and don’t have some other way of support, you might as well sell tomatoes on the street on beg.”
Diaz adds that he knows artists who are literally going hungry, some living on the street.
The story is the same throughout Cuenca’s arts community. National, city and provincial cultural projects have been cut or suspended. The city of Cuenca’s cultural affairs office has reduced its eight-employee staff to two. The city’s universities have cancelled arts projects and exhibitions and terminated the teaching contracts of art instructors. Even the future of the Cuenca’s international Art Bienal is in doubt.
The owners of Cuenca’s art galleries say the majority of galleries operating at the beginning of year are closed and will not reopen. Throughout the historic district, former galleries, some of which doubled as framing shops, have “For rent” signs on their doors.
Roberto Bravo, owner of Galeria y Taller de Arte Bravo on Hermano Miguel, says he is hanging on for now but is unsure about the future. “We hear that things are opening up again but that doesn’t seem to be the case for artists and galleries,” he says. “Even in good times, art sales come at the end of the queue. People always spend money first on basic necessities and now some people can’t even afford those. The artists and galleries are starving too.”
Bravo, who restores religious sculptures in addition to selling paintings, says he has made very few sales in recent months. “Two or three maybe, and they were small,” he says.
Diaz, who moved to Cuenca from Cuba 25 years ago, does not see the arts situation changing any time soon, possible for years. “I know artists all over Latin America and the story is the same everywhere,” he says. “There are no jobs, no projects, no sales. Many artists can’t even afford studio space. We all hope there will be a recovery from the pandemic but the consensus is that it will be very slow.”
According to Bravo, there will always be a market of art. “That is the good news and I believe one day we will see a return to some kind of normalcy but who knows when that will be. What can I say? Hope springs eternal.”