It’s hard to know what to say. It’s hard to know how to comfort someone when we have to stay at least six feet apart. It’s hard to uplift one another when none of us knows how long this will last. Still, we find ways to connect. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, Chicago creatives rise to meet the challenge.
During ghis year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, large crowds flocked to bars and restaurants despite recommendations that capacity be restricted to slow the spread of the virus. On March 15, Governor Pritzker ordered all bars and restaurants to close. The stay-at-home order went into effect on March 21, and nonessential businesses were told to follow suit. This means that many of our friends in the service industry and who worked in creative fields or as freelancers were suddenly out of work. The people who make their living making the lives of others better and brighter find themselves navigating the uncertainty of their industries.
B|E|Co creative director Justin Arnett, whose boutique creative agency relies on interdisciplinary collaboration across industries, found a way to remind us that we’re in this together. Six Feet Apart | An Industry Response to the Unthinkable turns the camera on industry professionals to hear firsthand what they’re feeling and thinking in light of unprecedented changes. “I want this to be a high-volume reminder that the people who make up your experiences are your neighbors,” says Arnett. “This is who they are. It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a tech space or an industry that feels far removed from service. Service is an innate care for your fellow human being and we’re all connected through that.”
One-on-one interviews with some of Chicago’s most beloved industry professionals remind us that we’re all in states of flux. Many who can’t keep working under new carryout and delivery ordinances have filed for unemployment and looked for new jobs. Others have had to delay the opening of new businesses like Ursula Siker whose “Jew-ish” deli Jeff & Judes was slated to open in Humboldt Park this year. “The way that people are offering to lend a hand in any way they physically can to make sure that we are fed and our basic needs are met is really, really special and it’s something that I’ve never seen happen to this extent before,” said Siker in her interview with B|E|Co.
For freelancers and creatives who rely on multiple projects for income, the reality of income instability has always been there. Writer, podcaster and entrepreneur Amelia Hruby says it has helped her emotionally prepare for what’s to come. Hruby and collaborator Kaitlin Stewart have been hosting the #wearyourweirdshit style challenge as a way to inspire others to liberate themselves from gendered, societal style expectations. “We didn’t plan for it to happen in the middle of a health crisis, but it’s fallen on the third week of social distancing and second week of the shelter-in-place mandate in Chicago, and the timing has [had so much impact],” says Hruby. “It’s been such a fun way to enjoy getting dressed up every day even though we’re all staying home, while also seeing, and sharing, the items we already own with new eyes.”
Finding ways to spice up old routines, stick to new ones, or simply cope with unfamiliar and constantly shifting reality is something we’re all dealing with. When we can’t fall back on in-person interaction to help us weather the storm, we have to find other ways to support one another.
Virtual classes in baking, dance, design and everything in between have become the new norm. South Side native and founder of Unpatterned interior design, Carly Pokornowski Moeller, has started experimenting with digital consultations and held a client consultation using FaceTime. “It has been so helpful to connect digitally with other designer and creative friends also dealing with the same situation,” says Moeller. “Additionally I am part of a mastermind group that meets regularly and we’ve been doing Zoom check-ins that aren’t necessarily about business strategies, but more of a mental health check-in for each other.” Most construction and design projects are on hold, although Moeller is still virtually connecting with clients on a case-by-case basis. “Mixing up the mundane like having a picnic in the downstairs family room or cooking a fancy dinner complete with cake for no reason has made things feel more special when you’re in the same space day-to-day.”
Many businesses have been quick to start GoFundMe campaigns to support their staff. Others have turned to making merch, posting videos and to the TikTok website, or selling services to supplement their income and support the cause. CH Distillery is producing Malört hand sanitizer to donate to healthcare and first-responder organizations.
With Chicago’s stay-at-home order extended through April, the long-lasting impact of the current health crisis remains to be seen. While loss is inevitable, it’s the tenacity and resilience of our coworkers, friends and neighbors that will see the city through this crisis.