Traverse City News and Events

How Are Local Arts Organizations Faring A Year Into Pandemic?

By Craig Manning | Feb. 11, 2021

Few sectors have been hit harder by COVID-19 than the arts. So here’s a sort of “State of the (local) Arts” report, touching on some of the most prominent organizations, their current financial health, plans for 2021, and recent organizational “heroes.”

Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF)

Letter Grade for Organizational Health
TCFF Founder Michael Moore opted not to give a letter grade, but noted that, due to the festival cancellation in 2020 and the closures of the State Theater and the Bijou by the Bay, TCFF has had “zero revenue for nearly a year.”

“Fortunately, we have been saved by hundreds of supporters who made sure our basic expenses have been covered,” Moore continues. “Their contributions have eliminated much of our debt. A core group of dedicated volunteers and our very active board have worked on a weekly basis to maintain the theaters and our organization. Together with other TCFF supporters, we have spent hundreds of hours working on restructuring and revitalizing the financial health of the organization in order to create a healthy and debt-free future...”

Plans for 2021
“It would be great to have some version of [TCFF] this summer,” Moore says. “That is our hope, but currently it is not a realistic one. We (and the virus) will make a final decision in April.”

“Our criteria for bringing back the festival and theaters remains the same,” Moore continues. “One, all patrons must be safe from the virus. We will not produce any event that puts people’s health or lives in jeopardy. We are now trying to raise the money so we can COVID-proof our theaters. Two, we cannot reopen until we are out of debt and have the necessary funds to re-open properly. We are optimistic we can do this. Three, the Boardman River has flooded the basement of the State Theater for years now, but for the past 400 days it has been relentless and it has put the theater in harm’s way. This needs to be fixed immediately and before we can reopen. It could cost up to $200,000.”

Recent Hero
“Many hundreds of people have chipped in to keep us from going under,” Moore says. “The hero in our case is every volunteer, member, patron, donor and the Traverse City community itself.”

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Letter Grade for Health
“A,” says Interlochen President Trey Devey, who credits the “over 725 supporters” who contributed to the organization’s new Emergency Response Fund, which exists to “support scholarships, health and wellness investments, and the retention of faculty and staff.” Those contributions have helped Interlochen navigate “the most challenging period” in the institution’s 93-year history, particularly given cancellations of both the Interlochen Arts Festival and the Interlochen Arts Camp created “a financial loss exceeding $15 million.”

Interlochen has also been able to continue its educational services, both through the Interlochen Online platform – launched last summer in lieu of camp – and through safety precautions that have enabled on-campus learning for more than 500 Interlochen Arts Academy students this school year.

Plans for 2021
Summer 2021 will mark the in-person return of Interlochen Arts Camp, though virtual offerings will remain available. As for the Interlochen Arts Festival, Devey says Interlochen “can’t wait to welcome our friends and neighbors back…as soon as it is safe to do so. We are actively monitoring the pandemic and determining plans for live, in-person performances.”

Recent Hero
Devey praises Interlochen’s COVID-19 and Campus Health task forces for keeping senior administrators and board members up to date on the latest pandemic-related considerations. “Their generous advice and guidance have enabled Interlochen to navigate complex and rapidly changing challenges and opportunities.”
 
National Writers Series (NWS)

Letter Grade for Health
“A,” says Executive Director Jillian Manning. “We moved quickly at the start of COVID to get our events online, and each one gets better and better in terms of production and experience for our audience.” NWS averages 360 attendees per virtual event.

Plans for 2021
The NWS winter/spring 2021 season is underway, with six more virtual events planned between now and May 26. The organization is also continuing with Battle of the Books, an annual “book-based quiz competition” for local students.

“We're also in the midst of planning our summer series, which will likely be virtual; and our fall series, when we hope to offer hybrid events,” Manning adds. “We can't wait to get back to the City Opera House, but we've also found a nationwide audience with our virtual events, so we're going to maintain both options going forward.”

Recent Hero
“Anne Stanton is our NWS hero,” Manning tells The Ticker. “She just stepped down from her five-year tenure as executive director, and it's amazing what she accomplished in that time..she truly left her mark both as a founder and a director on the National Writers Series.”

Parallel 45 (P45)

Letter Grade for Health
“A,” says Erin Anderson Whiting, Parallel 45 executive director. “Putting us through the paces of this pandemic…revealed that we have what it takes.”

In cancelling summer 2020 programming, Whiting says P45 “lost more than $150,000 in ticket revenue.” She points to a combination of support from donors and foundations, willingness of staff to take pay cuts, and successful virtual and outdoor programming for helping P45 close that financial gap and achieve “resilience” for 2021.

Plans for 2021
“Provided our plans remain in line with public health guidelines, we will produce an innovative, high-energy summer festival that will allow us to stay connected to our community while protecting the health and safety of our artists and our audience,” Whiting says. Those tentative plans include outdoor performances at P45’s Civic Center venue, with socially-distanced seating.

Recent Hero
“Our pitch-in, never-doubt, always-cheerlead, how-can-I-help, we-can-do-this, we’re-going-to-make-it board of directors,” Whiting says. “Without their support and their strong foundation, the staff would have wavered many times as we tried to navigate changes and setbacks that occurred daily.”

Old Town Playhouse (OTP)

Letter Grade for Health
“A,” says OTP Executive Director Deb Jackson. Between lost sponsorships, advertising, and ticket sales, Jackson tells The Ticker the pandemic has cost OTP “about $1 million so far.” “Thankfully, our Board of Trustees had been working the last few years to build an operating reserve,” she adds. “Who knew how important that would be?” 

Plans for 2021
“Last summer, we quickly put together Theatre Under the Tent in our parking lot,” Jackson says. “It was very successful, so we are building upon it for this summer. Each week from June through August, we hope to have two play events, two musical events, and a dance night. We are optimistically planning to reopen with live theatre on the mainstage in September…"

Recent Hero
“There are so many,” Jackson says. “Our employees keep working hard even on furlough. Our volunteers enthusiastically await reopening and have created Facebook fundraising events for us. And our patrons really deserve a round of applause; their donations kept us going during the shutdown and even funded the needed HVAC repair work…”

Traverse Symphony Orchestra (TSO)

Letter Grade for Health
“It is amazing that I can report a grade of ‘A’ for the TSO,” says Executive Director Dr. Kedrik Merwin, crediting contributions from patrons that have helped the orchestra “pivot to online concerts. In addition, we received a grant of support for COVID-19 adaptions from Rotary Charities, enabling us to produce small chamber concerts for our community.”

Plans for 2021
“We are looking forward to going beyond ‘getting back to normal,’” Merwin says. “We will strive to become even more embedded in this community – to provide enhanced access, greater educational opportunities, and more variety of music…”

Recent Hero
Merwin acknowledges several financial supporters, including an anonymous donor who came forward in August with an $80,000 matching gift, as well as several local and state foundations. “I would also be remiss if I didn't mention our Maestro, Kevin Rhodes, who has permanently moved to Traverse City during this pandemic for the express reason of reaching out to our community…”

Traverse City Opera

Letter Grade for Health
“A-,” says Executive Director Lindsey Anderson. “TCO was in its infancy at the start of the pandemic. Thanks to understanding community partners, TCO was able to delay our inaugural gala without financial loss. Recently, we have started to rekindle exciting conversations about potential collaborations…”

Plans for 2021
Anderson says TCO is in the process of “planning how best to bring vocal performances to our community in the safest way,” with hopes that “a live event will be feasible in late spring 2021.” TCO is also launching a social media campaign called “OPERAtion Smile,” which Anderson says “will capture and share the emotional impact opera has on the faces of its viewers…”

Recent Hero
“The Traverse City community is our hero,” Anderson tells The Ticker. “Patrons, community partners, and local artists have all welcomed the arrival of TCO with warmth and enthusiasm.”

Editor’s Note: Jillian Manning, referenced in the story, is the spouse of Ticker writer Craig Manning. 

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