In a matter of days, arts groups and organizers around the region watched their planned spring events dissolve into nothing this week as aggressive measures went into effect nationwide to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Many nonprofit arts groups already operate on a shoestring budget, always waiting for the next donation. Hitting the pause button represents a serious hit to their budgets, especially in spring when big events attract people ready to get out after the winter months.
Facing the unexpected, organizers are seeking to soften the financial blow social distancing will have on their groups and on the lives of the artisans, musicians, actors and other professionals they work with.
Festival cancellations cut artist incomes
Around 110 artists from Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana were preparing to sell their work at the Washington State University Mom’s Weekend Spring Arts and Crafts Fair, planned for April 3 at Beasley Coliseum as part of Mom’s Weekend events.
“We’re still in a bit of shock,” said Linda Gallagher, of Albion, Wash., who has organized the event for 30 years.
Organizing arts fairs at WSU in the spring and fall is a full-time family business for Gallagher, who works beside her daughter, Ginger. Over the decades, they have grown close to many of the vendors selling at their shows. Vending is a full time job for about 80 percent of them, Ginger said. Most don’t have another source of income.
“Our show is the first big show of the year in the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of the first big moneymakers for people,” she said.
Pullman will feel the effects of this spring’s cancellations, she said. “I do think that Mom’s Weekend is, by far, one of the biggest moneymaking weekends for Pullman.”
Lewiston’s Art Under the Elms also attracts more than 100 artists annually during Dogwood Festival events in late April. Lewis-Clark State College announced Tuesday that all Dogwood events, including the art fair, were being postponed to a date yet to be announced. Moscow’s Hemp Fest, Renaissance Fair and the first Moscow Farmers Market of the season, scheduled for May 2, also were canceled this week.
When events are shut down, organizers must decide whether to refund any fees artists paid to register. The Gallaghers said they never questioned giving people a refund. It helps that they do not have to pay to rent Beasley Coliseum until after the show has taken place, Linda said.
“Yes, it is our much-needed income,” said Ginger, “but they need that money so they can book another show that is not canceled, or groceries, or for medication.”
To replace the loss of the fair, the Gallaghers said they are working on some alternative events that would be smaller. They are also listing the artists who were scheduled to attend on their event’s Facebook page, WSU Mom’s Spring Arts and Crafts Fair, in hopes people who had planned to attend will support the artists online.
“I am acutely aware that no one needs a new pair of earrings right now,” Ginger said, “but we also have vendors who sell things like soap and yarn, so you can knit yourself a pair socks because now you’re home with all your children. We have people who sell pickled and fermented garlic, items that are supposed to be good for your immune system.”
Musicians and theater troupes prepare for silence
The Washington-Idaho Symphony cancelled the final two concerts of its season this week.
Loss from ticket sales will be difficult for the symphony to bear, said Kristin Lincoln, the symphony’s executive director.
“We don’t see this as resulting in the ultimate closing of our doors,” Lincoln said. “We have wonderful supporters who won’t let that happen, but this is something that can kill a performing arts organization.”
The income of the symphony’s professional musicians will be affected, she said. The nonprofit organization pays its musicians by performance. Many of the musicians also play in symphonies in Walla Walla and Yakima, which also have canceled concerts, she said. “This is really going to heavily impact the performing arts all over the country.”
The symphony has gone dark until further notice. Its office in Gladish Community and Cultural Center is closed.
“It would be irresponsible for us to hold any event that gathers people, even without the (Washington) governor’s decree,” she said. “Many older patrons attend our concerts.”
Lincoln is also the executive director of the Pullman Civic Theatre, which has postponed its spring shows until fall. Performances are one of the only sources of revenue for the Pullman theater.
“If you were planning on coming to one of these events, please consider donating to the organization via its website,” she said.
People also could consider making a donation to a nonprofit that had to cancel a program or fundraiser during this time period.
The Regional Theater of the Palouse and the Lewiston Civic Theatre also postponed the remainder of their seasons and asked that patrons consider making donations. The Lewiston theater’s office is closed through April 30.
“Losing the ticket revenue for two performances will be a huge financial burden to the civic, as we must continue to pay for things like rent and utilities during this time,” Shelly Renzelman, president of the theater’s board of directors, wrote in a statement. “We ask that if you were planning on attending either of the last two shows that you consider donating the cost of the ticket to the civic to help (us) through this difficult time.”
While the period of social distancing may not last long, Lincoln said the symphony and other groups are concerned that an economic recession is beginning. She said the symphony was just starting to recover from the 2008 recession.
“(The performing arts) are hit fist and the hardest during recessions. The first thing people do is cancel their season tickets,” she said.
“Our plea is to our community. We ask that if people can, they help support us, so that we can not only make it through this but any economic impact. When performances return, make it a priority to attend live performing arts. It’s important. Those are the things we cannot lose.”