Seventeen artists who were prepared to set up work spaces in more than a dozen Fitchburg and Verona businesses during the annual FitchRona Art Crawl, ended up staying home that weekend.

The event, scheduled for March 27-28 and organized by Yahara Bay Distillery, was canceled due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, as well as many businesses along the crawl being closed due to not being considered essential under Gov. Evers “Safer at Home” order.

Whether helping artists sell prints, or making connections for commissions, the event for many artists was an indispensable way to kickoff a circuit of spring and summer shows and festivals.

Despite economic and networking losses, several full-time artists who were scheduled to participate are remaining positive in the wake of the art crawl’s cancellation.

Mark Kerttula, an airbrush artist based in Watertown, participated in the FitchRona Art Crawl for the first time last year. He was set to return to Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg.

“The exposure for me to get out into Madison was by far the best thing that could have happened in an area of the state I’m not too familiar with,” Kerttula said of his experience last year.

This year would have been the third time Madison-based artist Christy Grace participated in the crawl. A watercolor painter who makes diorama and shadowbox-style art, Grace said the prize money from winning second place the year before helped pay for her to further her artwork and career.

Now, not having income flowing in from the Fitchrona Art Crawl and other art shows and shops she sells at is difficult. Grace said she plans to turn to online platforms to sell her work.

“Art is one of the things that falls out of people’s budgets during an economic crisis,” Grace said. “So now I’m shifting gears, finding new ways to sell my art.”

Despite losing income from cancelled shows and closed shops, Grace sees a silver lining.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities and connections I have had in the past. This pandemic will create more stories to tell through art. It’s both challenging and inspiring,” she said.

Art as an essential business

Kerttula said he relies on commissions for income instead of selling prints. His canvases are typically the sides of motorcycles, cars and snowmobiles, or helmets for all the above. NASCAR affiliated clients have been one of his main sources of income over the years.

He said that for his airbrush art, live demonstrations are a crucial way to generate business, as it helps people understand airbrush art better.

“A lot of my work could be mistaken as photographs instead of paintings,” Kerttula said.

He relies on events like the FitchRona Art Crawl to educate people on what he can do with airbrush art.

“The loss of that exposure is less devastating than it is psychologically a real bummer,” Kerttula said, “The financial loss isn’t as impactful as getting people to see your work.”

He has gotten to be friends with people on Facebook who watched him work last year. He said last year, one couple stayed and watched him work for a whole day.

“In my opinion, I am an essential business, because I’ve got to sell art to make a living. We artists are all going to feel this devastation,” he said.

Artists are rolling with the punches

Madison-based woodblock printmaker Sara Meredith would have been participating in the Fitchrona Art Crawl for the first time this year.

As a full-time artist and mom, she said she hasn’t had time to break down the economic impact the shutdown has had on her, as she’s been too busy homeschooling her children.

Meredith said there are no safeguards in place for artists to make up the months of income they’re losing.

“Like any small business, I work on a month to month basis. I have been doing art full-time for five years and had just started breaking even,” Meredith said. “March was supposed to be a really big month for me and now I have nothing.”

Meredith said April and May are traditionally when art sales start to pick up for her. Two other shows for her art were canceled in March.

She is joining other artists to advocate for emergency grants for artists, seeking legislation to support artists, stating many won’t be able to create art full-time anymore because of the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Even so, she is hopeful many will pull through.

“Artists are better equipped to change quickly because we are creative, rolling with the punches is part of our skills,” she said. “As an artist you are well aware of your failings and are equipped to move on quicker. I’m hopeful we can help each other out and find interesting sources of income.”

Meredith said not connecting with people is a bigger loss than income. She enjoys the personal interaction with others that she does not have working from home, and was looking forward to demonstrating cutting and painting woodblocks for a live audience.

Still, Meredith said, negativity isn’t going to fill the economic gaps for artists, and situations the pandemic is posing should be used for creativity that she and others can learn from.

“Art is a way to make people feel better and that’s an opportunity being missed,” she said. “But we have to stay positive. There’s lots of innovation happening right now, maybe there are new types of art that will come out of this.”

Neal Patten, community reporter, can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.