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No one has been untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic – no national, state or local government, no business, no hospital. Every institution across the world has been affected. Arts organizations are no exception. In Greensboro, there are two umbrella entities that are intimately linked to music organizations: ArtsGreensboro (formerly the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro), and the newly established Creative Greensboro.
I spoke with Ryan Deal, the City of Greensboro’s first Chief Creative Economy Officer for Creative Greensboro, and Laura Way, President and CEO of ArtsGreensboro, about the effects of the virus. Deal's primary job is to oversee the implementation of Greensboro's Cultural Arts Masterplan. ArtsGreensboro is the community’s largest source of dedicated financial support, funding arts and culture through a competitive process (from the website).
According to Deal, "They (AG) bring the private sector, my office brings the public sector, and lots of our goals are common." And Way says, "Ryan and I talk all the time. We both have to achieve the same thing. Our goal is a sustainable arts community that is inclusive and accessible for all. We (at AG) have tools in our toolbox that we can use to do that, and he has tools in his toolbox that allow him to facilitate that."
So, how has the virus affected these entities?
AG: "We started our Artists Relief Fund on March 16, and it was the weekend before that I started to realize that our world was going to change as we knew it. And artists who had been working in the gig economy – who were in the symphony orchestra, who were paid musicians, artists who were doing murals, visual artists who had shows that were coming up in which they would be able to sell their artwork – that that was going to come to a halt. I realized fairly early that the impact was going to be significant. So, we launched the Artist Emergency Fund right away. This fund is 'essentially a crowd-funding platform.' With the intent 'to give out money directly to artists who applied.' Of course, there were more artists (including musicians from the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra) who applied for help than there was money to go around."
CG: "It's created an impact around the entirety of our focus. We facilitate the city's music avocational ensembles – the Choral Society, the Philharmonia, the Concert Band, the Percussion Ensemble, and a few others. Mid-March, rehearsals for all of these ensembles had to be suspended."
"And of course, if you can't rehearse, you can't have a concert. And if you can't have a concert, there is no music for audiences." According to Deal, "The suspension of those rehearsals (and concerts) created a big vacuum – a big loss – in the creative life of this community. Greensboro loves music."
Another series cancellation: the summer concert program known as MUSEP (Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park), which has been a tradition in Greensboro for 40 years. It is the summertime complement to the Opus series. Like Opus, the concerts are free; there are outdoor concerts during the months of June, July, and August. Some of those scheduled concerts will now take place on-line. Deal says, "I have thought really strongly since we started considering what our options are that it is important that we maintain as much of that financial/economic contribution to the music community as possible because that's part of what we do." This means that AG will pay musicians already contracted for the canceled concerts.
Way talks about future plans: "In the next few weeks we will be launching a new campaign: Reentry and Reinvent," The former is "focused on how we can help organizations enter into the new reality." And Reinvent? "We need to look at our basic models and make sure they make sense in the 21st century. We need to be more resilient...: arts organizations, any non-profit organization, actually, every entity – for-profit, too."
"We have to break down silos where we hang on tight to everything we do. That's not going to work in this new reality. My job now is to help the arts community understand that re-inventing your business model is what you have to do. It's not something you should do, it's something you have to do."
I asked both Deal and Way if anything positive had come out of the pandemic. Way: "Since mid-March, AG has been having weekly calls and now Zoom calls with arts organizations. Sometimes there are twelve people on it, and other times there are 30. Initially, it was about providing resource information. Then it became a place to ask 'what are you doing, how are you doing?' You know when I talked about breaking down silos and barriers? This is part of that: it's a safe space for executive directors to have conversations with each other and share information."
Deal: "I think it's taught all of us to think more creatively and more innovatively and taught us all to be a bit more nimble than we were prior. We were all stuck in that 'this is how we do it so that is how we do it again.' And the world has handed us a scenario that says 'You can no longer do it that way. Period. So either figure out something else or disappear.' And that has forced us in some really good ways to think creatively and innovatively."
I learned from my conversations with several music organizations in Greensboro that they feel supported by AC and CG, despite the difficulties associated with the virus' impact. In forthcoming articles, I speak with the executive directors of many of those organizations about what specifically the pandemic has meant to them.
Stay safe and stay tuned.