Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Two weeks ago, I received the offer. It was one of those opportunities that would have symbolized the culmination of my first year in New York, would have justified the move to myself and my naysayers (both real and perceived), and would have put me back on stage again after the breathless marathon of audition season. Three days later, I was back home in Maryland fleeing COVID-19-related shutdowns in NYC, and three days after that, I got an email that the show had been indefinitely postponed.
My world turned upside down and I needed to turn it right-side up again. Propelled by this momentum of anxious energy, I imagined, created and hosted a virtual benefit concert for Feeding America. One hundred and one artists from four continents felt the same way and volunteered their enormous talent; we were streamed by five thousand audience members who donated the money for sixty thousand meals. And all this came together in five days.
I’ve spent the better part of this past week processing the whole experience and trying to put my feelings into motivational words. I thought I’d write a feel-good piece about how children are the future and everyone is a #girlboss and that sort of thing, but instead, every time I sat down to write, what came out was the makings of this article.
This is a tactical, four-step blueprint for you: the person looking to exact change and make an impact in your community even if, like me, you’re broken and broke, alone, and you’ve lost quite a bit.
*Note: I’ve struggled a ton with feelings of pride and how to extend my reach without inheriting some kind of hero complex along the way. It’s a really common struggle to tread the line between making an impact for a community and making a community a part of an agenda. This is real, it’s hard, and it’s continual. So that article's coming soon.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
What do you see that’s wrong with the world you’re living in? Do others acknowledge this problem, or would they if someone were to draw their attention to it?
As artists, coronavirus has severed access to our community, our audiences and our paychecks. However, I’ve been blessed by parents who welcomed me home with loving arms and who will help support me until this storm passes. The day I left the city, NYC announced city-wide school closures, and I became strikingly aware of my privilege—how unfair is it that I get to go home to escape from the world when so many people go into the world to escape from home? Why am I lucky enough to eat whenever I want, when many school children won’t receive even one stable meal a day because their schools had to close their doors?
The Problem: Due to COVID-19 related school closures, millions of children are not guaranteed their only reliable meal of the day.
Step 2: Identify What Would Solve It
The answer will almost always be money. But what exactly keeps people from contributing to a worthwhile cause?
One obstacle, especially in this moment of history, is feeling overwhelmed. There are simply too many problems that need fixing, and too much aid needed to actually fix them. How much of a difference could my contribution make?
The other obstacle is that naturally, people want to make a human connection when they do good. For evidence, you could look at the fact that soup kitchens are flooded with volunteers during the holidays, when they really aren't needed. Or in another example, many international mission trips don’t make a sizable impact on the countries they visit, and yet it’s a massive industry. There’s emotional satisfaction in looking another human being in the eyes and knowing you did something to make their life a little better. That’s good, and that’s natural.
But seeking the solution that comes with that kind of emotional gratification can actually be dangerous: though offering to bus hot meals to homebound people with underlying conditions is filled with good intentions, it may actually perpetuate the spread of COVID-19. Money is sterile and faceless, but in the hands of nonprofits that know how to use it, donations are the surest way to make a dent in the problem we identified in step one.
Conclusion: in order to donate, potential donors need to feel 1.) the importance of their gift, and 2.) some kind of emotional satisfaction.
Step 3: Ask “What Do I Have?”
While I don’t have money (this isn’t hyperbolic, by the way), I am rich in other currencies. I’m a performer with a college degree, international training, and years of voice lessons— you could say my vocal chords were expensive.
I also have very gifted friends—a diverse network of talented artists who have been similarly educated and like me, have been displaced from work. They have both time and talent in abundance, and many are already sharing their work online for free.
What I Have: a voice and a network.
Step 4: Identify, What Do I Need?
In friends’ live-streamed performances, when they express desperation for more viewers or for Venmo-d donations, the reason they aren’t getting money or attention isn’t that they aren’t talented. The problem is that technology is democratizing— why would someone pay attention to one person they’ve never heard of sing “Maybe This Time” in their basement, when instead they could watch Patti LuPone sing in her basement, a Met HD broadcast, or take an online class at Yale (yes, these are all things that are accessible online for free due to COVID-19)? Talent alone doesn’t add value, so talent alone won’t be rewarded by viewers and money.
Entrepreneurs know that money isn’t just a tool— it’s a manifestation of a mindset. And artists know that it’s possible to use our craft to engender emotions and change mindsets. So what if we could 1.) make donors feel important by connecting them to a larger network of people all supporting a larger financial goal and 2.) give donors a sense of emotional connection by offering them art worth watching?
So…what would happen if we artists came together with our own followings, and with our audience were united in a common cause as a result of our common problem?
In the end, this benefit marathon became a global event when I realized this: artists have emotional currency and donors have financial currency— and both are necessary to make a dent in national youth hunger due to Coronavirus school closures. And what we, artists and donors, need in return is the same at the heart of it all…
What I Need: I am alone, and I need to feel connected. I am sleeping in my childhood bedroom, and I need to feel like I have some sort of power over my circumstances. In the wake of what would have been a massive step forward in my career that instead crumbled beneath my feet, I need to feel like I matter.
CEO Rachel Hollis says that the professionals who will thrive during this time are the ones who look at this outbreak and ask “how can I make this [work] for me?” I think that anyone searching to make a difference in their community should also be asking, “how can I make this work for them?"
To make a donation to Feeding America, click here.
Alexandra, founder of The Hustling Creative, is a performer, composer, audiobook producer and business owner based in New York City. She holds a BM from the University of Delaware and professional certificates from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Harvard Business School. She has been engaged as a speaker at dozens of universities and conferences across the country. She works with artists to convert their craft into a meaningful and creative business. Contact her here.