- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Composer Jocelyn Hagen thought she would finally have time to finish an opera for the Minnesota Opera when she first heard about social distancing to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Then four student residencies (one of her main income sources) were canceled, and her two sons were required to stay home with her from elementary school.


“At the beginning of this, I got kind of excited,” Mrs. Hagen said. “But, now, well … it’s hard [to work] in this environment.”

Small arts collectives, theater troupes, galleries and venues far from the limelight (and endowments) of New York, Los Angeles and Washington are fighting to stay alive as the coronavirus shutters businesses.

On the Space Coast in Titusville, Florida, painter and framer Jeff Thamert says he’s seeing “zero foot traffic” at Downtown Art Gallery, where he showcases the work of 20 local painters, artists and artisans.

“We were hit hard in 2011 because the shuttle program ended. But the last couple years, it’s be real full-on again,” Mr. Thamert said, adding that now it looks like “it’s going to be a slow period, even after everything’s finished up.”

Some impresarios are exploring ways to mitigate the impact of business closures in the age of the coronavirus. A GoFundMe campaign sprang up to support venues, their employees and musicians in Austin, Texas, after the South by Sothwest music festival was canceled. It’s raised nearly $47,000, with a goal of $100,000.

In Duluth, Minnesota, Jake and Valerie Scott popped open a to-go window at their new Duluth Cider taproom and offered online orders for local delivery. Business has been better than anticipated, with Mr. Scott saying they ran out of glass growlers Wednesday.

To expand the circle of generosity, Duluth Cider on Wednesday hosted a performance by blues guitarist-singer Charlie Parr on Facebook Live.

“This is kind of our test-run, but the goal is to give career musicians a chance to have some income right now,” said Mr. Scott, who posted a GoFundMe link to support Mr. Parr. “We’re trying not just to survive during this time, but thrive too.”

Meanwhile, Darren Granaas, executive director of the nonprofit Matthews Opera House in Spearfish, South Dakota, said the independent venue is starting a singer-songwriter series and looking to coordinate online classes with artists. He also mentioned possible chalk-drawing contests for families in the region — anything to rally together the community.

“As we track how the virus is going, we may be able to do a bunch of one-offs … with local groups that we could promote on the quick in about two weeks and have people come out,” he said.

But Mr. Granaas said he has had to cut back hours, look at scenarios for reducing debt and reschedule acts. The opera house has canceled its subscription series, and its next major scheduled event is an outdoor arts festival in July.

“One positive of smaller organizations is we’re a lot more nimble,” he said. “We’re able to shift directions quickly.”

Mrs. Hagen expressed worry about commissions for new music, which depend on organizations, orchestras and operas having sufficient funds to sponsor work and musicians. It’s a worry many artists across the country are feeling amid the coronavirus.

“I honestly feel like most of what we do is froth. It’s the whipped cream on top,” the composer said. “I’m booked out and have contracts … I’m lucky that way, but we don’t know how this will affect after that.”


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