Classical 91.5

A local artist with multiple jobs loses most of them in the pandemic

Jun 26, 2020
Originally published on June 24, 2020 5:02 am

On a warm spring morning, Allison Roberts walked with bare feet to the art box she installed in front of her South Wedge home.

It looks like a little library, with glass panels on the door and a handle in the shape of a red bird.

"I finally had to put a little note up because people kept putting books it in. No! Only art supplies!” she said with a laugh.                          

Inside are colorful ribbons, paper, and other things people can use to create something.

They are some of the tools of Roberts' trade. One of her trades.  She doesn't fit neatly into a single job title or career path.                       

Roberts co-owns a theater-based training company called Impact Interactive. She also runs a studio for artists at the Jewish Community Center. She even poses as a patient in a University of Rochester medical school training program.

"I've always lived this way,” she said. “I'm also a visual artist and I sell art when I can. I understand, too, that people don't have the extra income right now and maybe artwork is not going to be a priority if they have to buy food."

In typical times, such a diverse set of jobs might protect a person from a recession, but the pandemic wiped out most of Roberts' income.

Only her University of Rochester job is still open right now, and that gives her only two hours of work every few weeks or so.

"It kind of feels like right now I kind of got nailed from all sides,” she said with a laugh.

Still, she considers herself lucky compared to many people who lost their jobs in the pandemic.

"For one thing, there's only two of us,” said Roberts. “I don't have little children I have to worry about."

Her husband, Eric, is a carpenter. He was getting paid for 30 hours a week because his construction company got emergency funding. Now, he's back to work full time. 

Roberts said they had a little savings to carry them through the earliest weeks of her unemployment and their mortgage company agreed to defer their payments for three months. 

She asked for a break on her vehicle lease, but she said the company handling the financing won't help her.

"It's this hassle and this hypocrisy,” she said. “I feel like these huge corporations that have been bailed out and helped, make it really hard for people, and that's just not right."

Roberts is working to find a way to transfer her training company's sessions to an online format, but there's no guarantee that income stream will reopen any time soon. She said she knows training is often the first cost to be cut when businesses are short on money.

She said she isn't looking for another job because she checks in on her 87-year-old father daily.  He has health issues, Roberts said, and needs help with grocery shopping and simple things like walking outside to get the mail. She's afraid if she goes out in the community to work and she is exposed to COVID-19, her father will be, too.

While the pause in her life created by the pandemic and her unemployment has presented many challenges, it’s also been a blessing. Roberts’ husband is an artist, too, and they've been spending more time together creating things and that has made them closer emotionally.

She said it makes them think more about how they do spend their days.

"It's hard not to get caught in that rat race of working so many jobs in order to make ends meet because the cost of living is so high and it's just so expensive to be alive these days,” she said.