An existential crisis


One of the heads of grantmaking for the National Endowment for the Arts has declared the current state of theater an existential crisis, asking “Are we at risk of losing a whole generation of artists?” due to the nationwide shutdown of live performances because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Venues across the country are dealing with restrictions that essentially preclude opening to the public due to social-distancing requirements limiting audience sizes to numbers that can’t cover costs. Those of us who love the arts don’t think of arts presentations as moneymaking ventures, but as soul-enhancing, spirit-reviving entities creating joy and delight and memories that last a lifetime; however, the stark truth is that artists and arts businesses are struggling to survive while trying to plan for an unknown future.

Darke County Center for the Arts exists to enrich lives in our community, and DCCA officials and staff continue to attempt figuring out just exactly how to accomplish that goal in an ever-changing environment that has forced cancellations and postponements of events amid the uncertainty of the times. Support from the community DCCA serves is essential to DCCA’s survival, but other resources must also be tapped to insure sufficient funds to present artists who will give of their talents, enabling the benefits derived from the arts to be shared with audiences. Enter Arts Midwest!

Arts Midwest is a non-profit regional arts organization headquartered in Minneapolis that has served audiences, arts organization, and artists throughout the Midwest for more than 30 years. The organization’s values include a belief that the area they serve is unique, with a unique artistic landscape, and it champions Midwestern art in all its forms. And Arts Midwest often provides funds that help underwrite DCCA programming while at the same time supporting artists.

DCCA had entered the Arts Midwest grant process, requesting funds to support an artist who would open DCCA’s 2020 Artists Series at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall and also provide Arts In Education performances for junior high students from all local public schools at no cost to the youngsters. Well, the likelihood of this plan coming to fruition is highly improbable, so DCCA Executive Director and grantwriter Andrea Jordan worried that those funds might not be made available; and she was happily surprised by an announcement from Arts Midwest that the funds requested would be granted without limiting the use of those monies to the specifics outlined in the original request.

Now Arts Midwest didn’t just say here’s your money, do what you will with it; guidelines assure that Midwestern audiences must benefit from an artistic experience in order for the grant to be fulfilled, but specified dates, artists, and programming details were not included in the requirements. Arts Midwest has expressed a spirit of resilience encouraging re-imagination to allow artists to continue doing what they were born to do, creating artistic experiences for audiences to enjoy and remember, without defining exactly how and when the interaction between artist and audience occurs.

Arts Midwest partners with state arts agencies including our own Ohio Arts Council, the state agency which exists to support quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically, providing support to artists and working to make the arts available to a broad segment of our population. The arts and culture sector is among the hardest hit in our economy, showing a job loss rate of well over 50 % and revenue losses in Ohio of at least $100 million per month; nearly two-thirds of Ohio artists remain unemployed. The economic loss to communities doesn’t end there. Studies show that a typical arts attendee contributes to local economies well beyond the cost of admission to arts events.

But the economic cost is not the only measurement for loss of live interaction with the arts. We are all diminished when we lose the opportunity for experiencing sublime events where artists’ talents sparkle and shine, invigorating and inspiring audiences. Thank you Arts Midwest, for enabling DCCA to plan for such an event even while the arts are experiencing an existential crisis.

By Marilyn Delk


Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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