The coronavirus’ (COVID-19) impact on the world and Baltimore has been far-reaching and all-encompassing. For artists and venues who rely on audiences and crowds to make ends meet, its impacts can be particularly drastic. However, venue Mobtown Ballroom, located in the downtown neighborhood Pigtown, has sought to help artists support themselves in a time where performance might otherwise be difficult to participate in.
On April 4, Mobtown hosted “The Great Baltimore Telethon,” a 16-hour livestream filled with a variety of over 50 acts from Baltimore locals. The ballroom, being a place for social dances and dance lessons, is one of the many locales affected by COVID-19. The Mobtown team put together the telethon after being approached by regulars about ways to donate.
In an interview with The News-Letter, co-owner of the Ballroom and telethon host, Sarah Sullivan, discussed her decision to plan the telethon with her roommate Abby Becker. There were concerns about if the telethon would be deemed appropriate given the severity of the global situation, but the team decided to go through with it.
“We decided there was space to bring some levity to the people stuck at home,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted that the telethon would also provide the Ballroom with an opportunity to raise money for itself and for other creators and artists in Baltimore.
“It feels really good to be able to do the right thing. We were able to pay our employees even though they hadn’t been working, and it felt really good,” Sullivan said.
She explained that this effort not only raised money for their employees but other artists out of work due to the pandemic. The acts included a wide range of artistic performances, from dance lessons to drag makeup tutorials to puppet shows and bartending classes. Alongside each performance, the Venmo or Paypal of the artist was projected so viewers could donate to them directly.
Sullivan noted that she had concerns going into the production.
“I wasn’t sure this would work at all,” she said.
Luckily, this project brought together people from all walks of art. Matthew “Hachi” Reid, a friend of Sullivan and Becker who works in theatre arts and sound engineering, took on the technical aspects of the stream. Reid had experience with live-streams prior to the telethon.
When asked about the current need to make art digital in quarantine, Reid was very optimistic in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I think artists have just as much opportunity to find an audience online,” Reid said.
Co-owner and co-host of the telethon, Michael Seguin, disagreed with Reid’s opinions on technology in an interview with The News-Letter.
“I find the internet stupid. I didn’t get into [the arts] for streaming,” he said.
Despite his disdain for tech, Seguin expressed optimism about artists in quarantine continuing to create for the sake of art itself.
“I believe in this stuff. People should feel comfort creating without interest in value,” he said.
Sullivan acknowledged that dancing won’t be the same for a long time but hopes this will reinforce an intersection of art communities in Baltimore.
“I’m seeing a lot of cross-pollination and support. We were able to connect with a lot of people who had never played at the Ballroom before,” she said.
The hosts appreciated the telethon as genuinely successful. Mobtown managed to raise almost $14,000 for their staff and for the artists, not including the money donated to the artists directly, thanks to the generosity of the viewers.
“I honestly didn’t expect to make any money,” Reid said. “I was really blown away.”
Sullivan stated hopes that this strong sense of connection and drive to care for each other will remain even after the pandemic is over.
“I would hope that with the sense of community and taking care of each other, when all of the restrictions are lifted and it’s safe to go out again, that everyone will flock to the people who have been giving them life during this time,” she said.
The Mobtown team plans to continue providing a platform for artists to raise money with smaller weekly livestreams. The “Mobtown Live” programs will be airing Wednesday nights at 7 p.m., featuring all kinds of entertainment from musicians, family members and even local congressional representatives.