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Local arts community bands together to raise money with Big Night In for the Arts

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Mandolin Orange is set to perform for WRAL's "Big Night In for the Arts." Photo courtesy of Kendall Bailey.

Jonathan Byrd felt the impact of the pandemic when he had to move all of his equipment into a room in his house. The local Triangle musician started sharing his music solely through video — and lost nearly half his income by lack of merchandise sales.

“When I used to play a show, I would have my merchandise and people could buy something and take it home,” Byrd said.

To support artists like Byrd, arts councils from Orange, Durham, Chatham and Wake counties have teamed up with WRAL to host "Big Night In for the Arts," which will feature performances by Scotty McCreery, Ariana DeBose, Mandolin Orange, Branford Marsalis and Mike Wiley. 

The fundraiser will celebrate and support the arts community in its path to recovery post-pandemic. The event will be livestreamed and broadcast on WRAL on Thursday at 7 p.m. 

Byrd said the best way to support artists like him at this time is to watch their virtual performances, share their content on social media and buy music and merchandise. 

“People haven't been able to play gigs for a year,” Byrd said. “They’re finding other jobs or figuring out other things to do — hopefully they get by until they are able to play music again.”

Katie Murray, director of the Orange County Arts Commission, said the idea formed after directors of the arts councils had a conversation about combining efforts to make an impact on something significant to them.

While the four counties have various specific needs, the proceeds will go toward a relief fund for arts agencies and individual artists; arts and education programming; and initiatives for equity in the arts.

Murray said she sees the fundraiser as a way to help artists and arts organizations reenter the world.

“For me, I wanted to highlight some members of our literary arts community, and I wanted to highlight some up-and-coming folks that maybe people don't know about yet, but they should,” Murray said.

All the featured artists are either Triangle natives or currently live in the area. The event will be a mixture of performances, interviews and highlights of projects the councils are working on.

Murray said the best way to support the community is through donations so that the arts councils can get money in the hands of artists and organizations. For those who cannot make a donation to the event, there are other ways to support the local arts.

“Try to incorporate the arts community into your life in whatever way that makes sense to you,” Murray said.

Fred Joiner, board chairperson of the Orange County Arts Commission, said the impact on the arts community can be thought of as a trickle-down effect.

“There’s so many creative industries that are connected to the arts that have suffered,” Joiner said.

Emily Frantz, half of the duo of Mandolin Orange, will be performing in the fundraiser and representing Orange County.  

One of the hardest parts of the pandemic, Frantz said, has been artists not feeling connected to each other and the community of people who listen to their music.

“I think most artists make the majority of their income from live performance and touring, depending on what kind of arts you're in,” Frantz said. “But obviously, that evaporated completely overnight.”

Joiner wants people to be expansive in their thinking about the arts and consider the graphic designers, web designers and other creatives who have been affected.

“The arts are not just the final product; there's all these things along the way in the supply chain that have an economic impact on the community,” Joiner said.

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