San Jose’s creative sector hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic

Bay Area

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — The creative sector has taken a big hit in 2020 and a local cultural facility in east San Jose has been an anchor for its community while continuing to honor long-lasting traditions. 

For two decades the School of Arts & Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza (SOAC) has empowered its community members living in the Mayfair neighborhood — where predominantly Mexican-American families have lived since the mid-20th century. 

As a cultural and community hub — the SOAC has been forced to adapt to all that this year has brought and continues to empower its community members by pivoting operations to offer crucial support and services. 

“We are a community anchor organization; this is a place where a lot of groups and artists call their creative home and the pandemic has essentially created an entire halt in a way to a sector,” said Vanessa Shieh, Associate Director for the SOAC. 

“Organizations that are used to sharing their creative content, having productions on stage, new works of art, they can’t necessarily share that with people in traditional means,”Shieh added.

“The last few months it’s really been the sector trying to adapt and learn how best they can still connect with their audiences and at the same time funds that were originally slated for new productions and new works of art have now been repurposed with a lot of our local funders have been great at recognizing the challenges that organizations and artists face, those funds are now being used to keep the organization staffed,” Shieh said.

Courtesy: The School of Arts & Culture @ The Mexican Heritage Plaza

In addition, this year alone the creative sector has had to deal with the ongoing repercussions of AB 5, which was aimed to protect workers but limits the number of workers classified as independent contractors. 

Artists and arts groups that depend on gigs and events have had a hard time to make ends meet as COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult to find work — in response the SOAC is committed to helping it’s local artists all while filling the needs of its disproportionately impacted community. 

“We’ve lost a third of our revenue in just cancelling events, my department generated a lot of revenue in full-priced events and non-profit events” said Chris Esparza.

“We got pummeled in the beginning but we found a way, we found funding sources, we found other ways.”

Courtesy: The School of Arts & Culture @ The Mexican Heritage Plaza

Along with local agencies the SOAC is offering free COVID-19 testing and food distribution as much of their efforts have been tailored to the need of its community.

Food distribution is every first and third Monday of the month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and COVID-19 testing every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Courtesy: The School of Arts & Culture @ The Mexican Heritage Plaza

Currently Santa Clara County Public Health allows large gatherings to be held outdoors with a maximum of 200 people. 

The SOAC has moved many of their artists to online platforms allowing many of their community partners to be able to still share new artwork, music, or events through various social media platforms. 

“My job as community engagement program manager is really to bring people to the space to activate the plaza and really have events come together as a community and it’s basically the opposite of what we can currently do,” said Edgar Ochoa, Community Engagement Program Manager for the SOAC.

“We have families who are only Spanish speaking, we have families who are only English speaking and we make sure to tailor to that with our digital content where we have someone hosting in Spanish, someone hosting in English.”

Courtesy: The School of Arts & Culture @ The Mexican Heritage Plaza

In order to uphold long-lasting traditions, while being mindful of the current pandemic, the SOAC will host it’s Avenida de Altares (Day of the Dead celebration), a free drive-thru event on Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Community members will get to see the altar gallery as they pass a makeshift graveyard where they can honor and pay respects to those who have passed away. 

On the same weekend — the SOAC will be open as a voting center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, along with Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

“Now more than ever, it is crucial for our community to vote. There are major changes, which need to take place, so head to La Plaza to cast your vote and honor those who are no longer with us to cast theirs,” said Ochoa. 

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