September 29, 2020 News & Features » Cover Story

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State of the Arts 

We check in with arts groups weathering the storm of 2020.

click to enlarge Sabrina Holland in Richmond Ballet’s “Waltzes Once Forgotten” by Mate Szentes.

Sarah Ferguson

Sabrina Holland in Richmond Ballet’s “Waltzes Once Forgotten” by Mate Szentes.

Normally, we run our fall arts preview issue early in September and have the challenge of squeezing a host of Richmond events and activities into a limited space.

This year? Not so much.

Instead we waited until the end of the month and thought of the issue more as a state of the arts, catching up with artistic folks who are adapting to the historic changes in 2020.

Arts groups are always struggling to survive, but many are now on life support. What we found inspiring is how many are adapting through this fall season, some with the help of grants and federal funding, but most through sheer power of will.

People in the performing arts are planners to their core – and since the pandemic started that’s simply not possible. “The biggest joke of 2020 was buying a calendar,” Jess Burgess, executive director of Dogtown Dance Company, succinctly put it.

Most arts groups saw their online capabilities move to the forefront, since that was one of the only ways to reach an audience. Often arts leaders commiserated that they had to learn other skills on the fly, become medical specialists or information technology gurus to keep things going. They all feel the weight of having people’s health on their shoulders.

As Burgess put it, the reality of the pandemic is that it has caused a lot of community arts organizations to become resilient and learn to bounce back quickly.

“So it’s been something that we should be proud of,” she points out. “There certainly weren’t any directions given.”

Some may look at this as a lost year or two for all of us, one we hope goes by quickly. Like when you pop open your laptop screen late at night, uncertain of the time, and for a brief second it says 1:20 a.m. before switching immediately to 2:40 a.m.

But arts groups aren’t waiting for it to be over – they’re still out there creating and helping people process what feels like a watershed moment.

What else could they be doing? They’re artists. – Brent Baldwin

Moments of Grace
Galleries and art museums reassess their role.

Drama Season
Limited audiences, pop-up theater, relocation and mergers in the drama world.

A New Reality
Arts heads say collaborations and technological shifts mark new realities.

Pandemic Pirouette
Dance community pivots with online streaming and social distancing.

Missing Melodies
Live venues and musicians hold on for dear life.

Stack Life
Booksellers are working to stay connected with customers.

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