In the wave of cancellations, postponements, and restrictions that have come duringthe global COVID-19 pandemic in the past year, the arts community has been hit particularly hard.

Now a leading arts-supporting agency in Columbia is launching a campaign to urge the public to do its part in slowing the spread of COVID-19, so that artists and venues can get fully back to work.

One Columbia for Arts and Culture, an arts advocacy nonprofit that is heavily funded by the City of Columbia, recently launched the online Shorten The Intermission initiative. It is imploring Columbians to wear masks, mind social distancing, wash and sanitize their hands, and to stay home when they can in an effort tamp down the spread of the virus so the city can get back to a place where the arts and entertainment industry, largely sidelined by the coronavirus, can be fully reignited.

“One of the things we wanted to do was just to offer a friendly reminder to people who are very invested in keeping the arts alive, but also invested in trying to get people back to work, to follow through with social distancing guidelines and remember that the arts need our support, too,” One Columbia office manager Jemimah Ekeh said. “Doing the best that we can and doing our part is what we are trying to espouse with the campaign.”

While the pandemic has walloped the economy across many sectors, the arts have taken a particularly tough blow, as COVID-19 has greatly hampered the ability to hold indoor concerts, plays, movies, and other performances. Even those entities that have begun hosting eventshave typically done so with drastically reduced capacity, and with a bevy of precautions in place.

According to an analysis from the the National Endowment for the Arts from late 2020, 61% of businesses in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector reported that COVID-19 continued to have large negative effects on their revenue. By comparison, the national average for all sectors was 31%.

The effects continue to be felt on the local level, as well. For example, the Nickelodeon Theatre, Columbia’s only arthouse cinema, remains closed on Main Street. And large festivals have been sidelined or altered in the past year. St. Pat’s in Five Points, which typically welcomes tens of thousands of people to hear live bands, was canceled in 2020, and organizers have indicated that the 2021 edition will be greatly scaled back from prior years.

One Columbia’s plea for the public to keep going with COVID-19 prevention methods comes at a moment where there have been some positive signs regarding the virus. The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has reported several days in the past two weeks in which there were fewer than 1,000 new cases. Prior to that, there had been a three-month streak in which every day had been morethan 1,000 new cases.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have fallen sharply in South Carolina. On Wednesday, DHEC reported there were 968COVID-19 patients in state hospital beds, down from a high of more than 2,400 patients in January. And COVID vaccines have continued a slow, but steady, rollout across the Palmetto State, with nearly 793,000 doses having been administered as of Wednesday.

One Columbia executive director Lee Snelgrove said the encouraging signs with coronavirus numbers make it even more important for residents to be vigilant and use precautions, to keep the momentum headed in the right direction.

“I do think it coincides well, in the sense that we don’t want people to take those dropping numbers or the feeling of moving out of this to take over,” Snelgrove said. “We need to still be safe as we do things. It sounds like we are still going to be wearing masks for a long time, and that will probably still be part of cultural activities we attend.”

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin lauded the Shorten The Intermission effort, noting the vibrancy the arts community brings to the Capital City and underlining the importance of quelling the virus so that artists and venues can get back to full strength.

“Our amazing creative community has sacrificed a great deal in the interest of public health,” Benjamin told The State. “Let’s all do our part to get everyone back to work safely and as soon as possible.”

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