Paris Willoughby: Nailing down support for creative laborers in the midst of a pandemic

If you told Paris Willoughby just a few months ago that she would be stuck at home and not able to work, she probably wouldn’t believe you. A resident of New Orleans, Willoughby is passionate about both her full-time day job as a licensed nail technician and her role as a museum intern in the curatorial department at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Being that Willoughby has not one but two roles within the creative industries, it definitely seemed unlikely that she would find herself out of any work at all. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, many people are finding themselves in the same situation as Willoughby. When reflecting on not being able to work either of her jobs, Paris says, “Looking at it from both perspectives, the art world in its entirety is seen as non-essential.” 

Paris Willoughby (left) and Katie Pfohl, PhD (right) at a gallery in the NOMA (Photo Courtesy: Paris Willoughby)

The changes that people have had to adapt to in response to COVID-19 have been vast. Willoughby has had a lot of time to think about the impending changes to the museum industry in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “You see a lot more museums switching to [go] online and rushing to create these digital platforms so they can stay relevant during this time,” says Willoughby. She expects this virtualization of museums to become much more normalized as we continue to fight COVID-19. 

Slightly different from museums and their ability to present art online, Willoughby has had to wait for permission from the city to go back to work as a nail technician. Being that cosmetology is a customer-based field, customers may only go back to beauty specialists once New Orleans deems it safe enough to do so. On top of that, her customer base has to be willing to have their nails done when they feel comfortable enough to return to the environment of a salon. Even when safety becomes less of a concern, Willoughby’s client base won’t be back in full force until everyone is back to work and financially secure enough to receive her services.

Things may not return to “normal” until as early as October and is subject to change given the chance of an impending second wave. Willoughby hopes to see New Orleans and other cities help support their creative workers in the near future. “If more creatives were given assistance in creating digital interfaces for their work that was supported by the community… that would be incredible,” says Willoughby. Unfortunately until then, Willoughby is unable to work on anyone’s nails other than her own. 

Paris Willoughby’s nail art (Instagram: @nailaddix)

The beauty of both museums and nail art involves being physically present and creating and viewing art in person, and it is clear that the effects of COVID-19 have forced a new approach and perspective to these two creative industries.


This piece is part of the on-going series “Creative Labor Through the Crisis,” which is part of a Creative Labor course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford. Quotes and information are taken from interviews completed by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford. 



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