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Social Distancing Has Arts Organizations On Shaky Ground. What Can Be Done?

Hartford stage
Hartford Stage recently announced it would have to furlough 70% of its staff.

Arts organizations are at a virtual standstill as much of the world hunkers down to avoid spreading the coronavirus. It’s predicted that many organizations will not survive the crisis. Even long-established institutions are feeling the pinch.

Just last week, Hartford Stage announced it would shed 70% of its workforce through furloughs and the outright elimination of positions in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The irony here is that in difficult times people often search out the arts to bring them comfort and solace. A great example of that is the many videos cropping up on Facebook and other social media of people making music, dancing and creating art in isolation.

“We are so used to now thinking of the arts as peripheral to everything, and we forget that arts are a basic need here,” said Constance DeVeraux, director of Arts Leadership and Cultural Management at the University of Connecticut. “You can look throughout history, or even in your own life whenever a crisis comes up you probably turn to the arts in some way.”

DeVeraux said this should give struggling arts organizations a measure of comfort.

But there are things these organizations should be doing during self-isolation to improve their chances of weathering the downturn.

“The first thing is to contact other arts organizations and see how they can work together. It is a good time for this,” said Deveraux. “These organizations are full of creative people, I have no doubt they can come up with things, but it’s important they work together.”

Local foundations that support the arts financially are another important resource, according to DeVeraux.

“I know these foundations are looking to provide some assistance,” she said. “Arts organizations should contact them about putting together a concrete plan about how they can provide some emergency funding.”

Another thing DeVeraux said organizations should do right away is connect and stay connected with their patrons and supporters.

“I know some organizations have already asked patrons if they would donate the money for tickets that are unused rather than get reimbursement. Or people might ask their donors if they would give an extra amount during this time.”

DeVeraux said another important element during the crisis is advertising.

“If organizations could afford it right now, keeping your organization in people’s minds during this time would be really important,” said DeVeraux. “So you might have to amend your message -- you’re not going to have underwriting about a performance, but when they do go looking for something to do when things open up, they are going to go to places that they know are out there and operating.”

DeVeraux points out that the National Endowment for the Arts has set up a websitefilled with resources for artists and arts organizations needing extra help to manage through the COVID-19 crisis.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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