As things begin to open up, there is an ever growing conversation about what is ‘essential’ and what is not. It’s something those of us connected to the arts sphere have been feeling acutely.

Although there is a lot that people disagree on these days, a general consensus (outside the arts world) seems to be that the easiest thing to dub non-essential is art.

It’s a hard thing to hear, when the thing at the core of your life, the thing that has been truly essential to basic functioning is the first thing the world seems to throw out.

And so we argue. We yell about the importance of art in people’s lives. We tell them that they would miss us if we were gone. We insist that they’re wrong, whether they know it or not.

On a micro level, it’s a fight that I see happen quite a lot. As someone that gets to be part of people’s spending conversations, the argument over what is ‘essential’ is one that dominates, and the thing that I’ve learned is that there are no hard and fast rules.

For some people, spending on clothing is essential. There are lots of reasons this can be true, none of which I feel the need to justify to anyone. It is essential in their lives.

For others, it is the last thing they spend money on. They are happy in the same old shorts every day. It is non-essential. I have to fight for them to acknowledge that one day they will have to replace those shorts, and maybe they should put a few dollars aside for it.

This comes up in every category: food, travel, business, subscriptions.

Something that is non-essential to us seems like a frivolous thing to even think of buying.

…turns out …people are different.

So, to the arts world I say…to some people, art is not essential. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It’s just not a big part of their lives, and they don’t really miss it when it’s gone. Maybe they’re not really thinking it through, or maybe it’s just not a thing for them.

To the rest of you I say…please be gentle on the arts world right now.

For many of us we are nowhere near to getting back to work. The side jobs that we held to diversify income and provide stability in down times, they’ve also dissolved. We are not only dealing with an anvil blow to our industry, but the questions of identity that come with it.

I know we’re not the only ones, but many of us (particularly those in live theatre) are just starting to process what the next 2 years of our lives may be.

I know you need to make decisions about what’s essential and what is not.

But understand that art has been essential to us. It has been essential to our identities and to our work. It has been essential to our families and our homes. it has been essential to our friends and our communities.

To us, it is not debatable. We have lived its essential-ness, and it has changed…and we’re struggling.