So how are local arts and culture organizations coping?

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By Anne H Oman
Reporter-At-Large
March 25, 2020

The Covid-19 virus has cost the nation’s art and culture nonprofits an estimated $3.6 billion, according to the advocacy group Americans for the Arts.

The show must go on even though performances are delayed. Jeffrey Moss, ACT volunteer, continues work on the stage for ACT’s next production, The Book of Will.

So how are local arts and culture organizations coping?

“We’re hanging in there,” Phyllis Davis, Executive Director of the Amelia Island Museum of History (AIMH) told the Observer. “Fortunately, over the last few years, the Board has been careful to put reserves aside, really in case of a hurricane. But, of course, we’ve been affected. We’ve had to cancel the Courtyards & Cottages tour, and we’ve always participated in the Shrimp Fest. Between the two, that’s a $31,000 loss.”

AIMH is also feeling the pinch from cancelled tours – some with large groups – and from general admissions, which normally spike during spring break.

The museum was slated to receive a $15,000 grant from the State of Florida, according to Ms. Davis.

“But I don’t know if that will happen now,” she said. “We’re hoping to convince the state that we’re going to be hurt, just like any small business.”

Tentatively, the museum is planning a fundraising event – a 1920s celebration – for May 31.

“But , depending on what happens with the corona virus, we may have to move it to the fall,” she said.

Meanwhile, the history-deprived can livestream museum events by clicking on www.twitch.tv/ameliaislandmuseumhistory.

The Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival has cancelled seven remaining events in its 2020 season, and is refunding money to ticket holders, according to Dr. Joseph Marasco, the Festival’s Executive Director. The only event in question is the April 26 Season Finale Celebration with the Zukerman Trio.

“There’s near zero chance that will go on, but we haven’t cancelled it yet,” said Dr. Marasco. “With the travel restrictions, it would probably be impossible to get all three of them here.”

When artists cancel – as has been the case with the Festival performers – there is no cost to the sponsoring organization, he explained. But the expense of preparing for the concerts and publicizing them is lost. The Festival had put deposits on concert venues, but most have been returned, according to Dr. Marasco.

“From a financial point of view, it’s not so bad,” he said. “But from the point of view of fulfilling our mission, it’s a disaster.”

Looking to the future, Dr. Marasco expressed both concern and hope.

“My concern is that some folks who make contributions – if their circumstances change — might not be able to contribute or sponsor concerts for the coming season,” he said. “It’s an uncertain time, but our donors are so committed to us… We have great supporters.”

The Island Art Association closed its gallery on March 17 and cancelled all workshops, classes and open studio time until May 1, according to its co-president, Gwen Cowart.

“The Island Art Association is a non-profit, and we generate our income from gallery sales, workshop fees, and the Shrimp Fest,“ Ms. Cowart wrote in an email. “The closure of the gallery, combined with the workshop and Shrimp Fest cancellations will put a severe financial burden on the IAA. Additionally, given the likelihood of an extended economic recession, we are quite worried about how it will impact our future operations. As our mission is to support the visual arts throughout Nassau County, we are hopeful that support for our organization will rally after these dark times pass, and that we will be able to continue serving the community.”

Jill Dillingham of Amelia Musical Playhouse sounded an upbeat note.

“Amelia Musical Playhouse will not be cancelling but postponing our shows,” she said in an email, although the theatre’s website lists a cancellation of a screening of The Last Page of Summer on March 27.

“At this time, we have moved our next musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar, to May 14,” she said, adding that Kiss Me, Kate and Senior Moments would be performed in late May and through June.

“We hope that we will be able to stick to these new dates,” she said, adding that “it is very difficult to find as so many people are involved — band members, crew and cast. With a full-scale musical, this can be as many as 60 or 70 individuals. … The publishers of these shows have been easy to work with, and there are no fees to pay for extending dates on our shows.”

During this down time, actors and directors are working on blocking and choreography through online rehearsals, she said.

Auditions for the teen show, We Will Rock You, are scheduled for March 31, “with correct social distancing.’” Alternatively, applicants may submit a video or request a private audition.

“While it is a challenge financially to run a business with zero income, we are paying the bills and continuing improvements,” she added. “Our patrons and members have been most generous in recent days many folks are dropping off or mailing donations.”

The Amelia Community Theatre is “getting along just fine,” according to Executive Director Tener Wade.

“Of course, any time we have anything that impacts attendance, like a hurricane—that’s happened – it has an effect,” he told the Observer. “Currently, we’ve had to cancel the production in the Studio Theatre, Where Words Once Were, and some of the Acoustic Sessions. And we’ve rescheduled The Book of Will. The cast is doing fantastic, and we look forward to putting it on…. Right now, we can’t give a firm date.”

Like the other arts administrators, Mr. Wade expressed gratitude for community support.
“For the cancelled shows, we’ve offered patrons a full refund or the option to make a donation of the ticket price,” he said. “I’m astounded by the generosity of some of our wonderful guests who have said ‘keep it and use it to help the theatre.’ It’s one of the things I love about our wonderful community.”

Anne H. Oman relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications. We thank Anne for her contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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