Carnegie Hall recently announced the cancellation of their 2020 season; so did the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Lights on Broadway have been dark for months, and nobody knows when they will shine once again. These nationally known venues are joined in their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by countless concert halls and performing arts centers across the nation and around the world. The arts and culture sector is among the hardest hit with a nationwide job loss of 54.5 percent, while revenue losses in Ohio amount to at least $100 million per month. And even though our state has come through the multi-faceted crisis created by the virus better than most, the light at the end of the tunnel is not yet bright enough to see clearly.
So what does all this mean for Darke County Center for the Arts, its programming, and its supporters, currently as well as in the future? According to DCCA Executive Director Andrea Jordan, DCCA is financially stable right now, despite finding it necessary to cancel the final five events of the 2019-2020 season. Although DCCA offered refunds to ticket buyers for all these shows that could not happen, most patrons did not ask for their money back, instead donating the amount of their purchases to benefit the organization; Ms. Jordan is extremely grateful for these donations which are a prime contributor to DCCA’s current stability.
The new season was to open later this month with Barbecue and Blues, DCCA’s annual festive fundraiser on the Greenville Public Library Lawn, but because of concern regarding virus spread such large gatherings are not allowed; so the fun-filled (and lucrative) event will not happen. Also called off is the annual residency by Missoula Children’s Theatre wherein local students participate in a fully-realized musical theatre production, an activity that unfortunately could not safely take place even in the glorious expansive space at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall. But what of all the other shows set to play in that historic venue, as well as the Coffeehouse shows at various intimate spots around the community? And will DCCA’s highly regarded Arts In Education Series happen this school year?
According to Andrea, much planning has been done — and undone. Planning for the unknown, dealing with a series of “what-ifs,” is not only frustrating, but pretty much an impossible task. Actually, the only “known” at this time is that things will not be returning to normal anytime soon, and when normalcy does return, it will be a new normal. DCCA’s usual criteria for presentations include high quality artists, probable audience interest and enthusiasm, and budgetary concerns. The pandemic adds safety as an essential requirement, and ensuring that performers and attendees can be confident that their health will not be negatively affected by attendance at a DCCA show is simply not possible right now.
So, if long-range planning cannot take place in this constantly changing environment, what can the community expect from its arts provider in the near future? Performances at St. Clair Memorial Hall are extremely problematic, as mandatory requirements include a theater seating capacity reduction of at least 40 percent to assure appropriate social distancing. In addition to the fact that reducing audience size provides lower ticket proceeds, the dilemma of assigning seats to long-time patrons who feel that they own the seats they have occupied for years is, to say the least, difficult to resolve. Other sanitizing requirements would also be almost impossible to attain.
Continually re-inventing plans seems to be normal right now. The DCCA Executive Director wants everyone to know that the organization is dedicated to executing wonderful ideas to enrich lives through the arts, and that the Arts In Education program which annually takes artists to perform for students at every grade level in all local public schools is a priority. She also hopes that DCCA membership numbers will not decline during this intermission in public programming. “We need the arts to inspire and sustain us more than ever right now,” Ms. Jordan said. “We are counting on our community to support our efforts as we move forward through the unknown to achieve our purpose and brighten lives through the arts,” she concluded.