This week we gain another Industry Member Insight as we talk to past president and long time SITE Member, Sandi Cottrell of ArtWalk San Diego. With a healthy dose of inspiration and call to action, Sandi outlines some of her experiences and insights from this pandemic.

Tell us a little about what you do/your business.

Beginning in 2004, after my long career in destination management, I began producing San Diego’s largest and longest running fine art festival.  Our team now produces three large fine art shows and an annual dining experience in San Diego’s very popular Little Italy district.  I also have been teaching a course on festivals and large public events at SDSU’s World Campus (formerly known as Extended Studies.)

What have the past few months been like for you personally/professionally?

We’ve had to cancel three shows and are still trying to get approval for a November edition, with greatly modified operations.  There have been many low points to this Covid-19 time, and in the beginning I felt pretty depressed, sleepless, and disconnected.  Things started to improve for me personally when I began to get creative with art.  I started painting again, which is something I’ve done all my life, sporadically.  So as a positive, these long empty days of confinement have led to a spark of creativity and color.

In the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve also become very involved with the San Diego Event Coalition, a group of event producers and event suppliers fighting for recognition among political leaders, for our “forgotten” industry.  All of us involved in events, both on the corporate/incentive travel side as well as public events/festivals have been unemployed since March. That’s over 10 million people in the US alone.  In California, events are not even listed as an industry on the State’s industry guidance.  We are working to secure financial support for our industry, as we were the first to close and we’ll be the last to reopen.  Working with this group has been a high point as it helps to feel that I’m doing something positive, as are many other SITE members involved in their local and national event coalitions.

In addition to working to gain recognition as an important business sector, the Coalition has also authored a comprehensive reopening plan for events to follow, addressing everything from sanitation to health screenings, to food safety.  These standards  have been adopted by San Diego City and County officials, for all event planners going forward, once we are allowed to gather again.

San Diego city
Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash

There are many challenges associated with Covid-19. For you and your business, what would you say are the top 3 at this moment in time?

The biggest challenge is the fact that there is no clear pathway to reopening. Our challenge is not just for our organization, but also for the fine artists who we showcase.  Artists have had few to no venues to show and sell their work since March and because of the nature of their professions, many have not been able to secure government financial assistance.  We hope to be able to get approval for the show in November.  The artists are anxious to get back to showing and selling their work. 

This time has been a steep learning curve in so many ways. What are the main lessons you have learnt over the last 6 months?

The work of the San Diego Event Coalition has reminded me how important it is to stay connected with peers.  The work of this group has been incredibly inspiring. Everyone has given so freely of their time and resources to produce rallies, build awareness, and reach out to politicians.  The group came together quickly and acted passionately, and the results have been impressive.  There is still so much work to be done but there is strength in numbers.

Businesses everywhere are adapting to survive. In what way has your business/role altered in response to the pandemic?

We have produced “ArtTalks”,  online videos of chats with artists that have been very popular. We’ve also stepped up our social media to showcase artists every few days as it all helps to keep art and artists prominent with the public.  Artists have told us they’ve sold some of their work as a result of these strategies. 

We have also transitioned our popular Taste of Little Italy event to a “Take-Out Edition” where guests can enjoy food from the restaurants in a take-out format with no congregating. 

Up-skilling seems to be the order of the day! Have you had time to re-skill/up-skill on anything in particular over this time? Work related or otherwise!

As I mentioned above, I’ve been spending more time working on my paintings.  I took an abstract acrylic workshop last fall which was a new way of creating art for me.  I didn’t have much time to practice these new methods until Covid-19 happened.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process and have created a few paintings that I’m rather proud of.

As travel in general is hit, there is a fear that the appetite for incentive travel and events might not bounce back to as it was before. What are your thoughts on this?

I believe people are starving for travel and events.  When there is a vaccine and/or circumstances are more safe for travel, I am confident the industry will bounce back stronger than ever, even though there may be new precautions and procedures that are followed.

A festival like atmosphere in the city
Photo by Tom Sekula on Unsplash

How did you get into this industry? What is it you love most about it?

I was 19 when I worked at my first event.  I have never looked back or considered any other industry or profession.  What I love most about it is the creativity, as well as the joy of seeing an event or experience come to life and bring joy to the participants.

We love to be inspired! Can you leave us with something to mull over? – perhaps a favourite quote!

I dearly love this quote by Barack Obama: 

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Anything extra you would like to add? 

We will all get through this trying time by continuing to stay connected with one another through SITE, and other groups that bring us together.  I encourage everyone globally to get involved in the “Save Live Events” movement. It’s so important to bring awareness to the severity of the plight of our industry.  If there is not local Coalition in your area, get involved in the National Live Events Coalition in the US or a similar global group working on these issues. Follow these organizations on social media, send a letter to politicians… do what you can to seek support for our global industry.

Written by Sandi Cottrell, San Diego, USA

Industry Member Insights - an image of Sandi Cottrell