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Arts and nonprofit organizations close, reschedule events in wake of coronavirus crisis

BY Tuesday, March 17, 2020 05:00am

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During a time when people may need some escapism and laughs the most, the stage is silent. The music has stopped. The curtain has dropped.

To stop the spread of coronavirus, and in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order to cancel public gatherings of over 250 people, arts organizations have scrambled to cancel and reschedule events in the last few days. Arts officials say the financial implications remain to be seen, especially if the order extends beyond April 5.

Many arts organizations decided to close on short notice Friday, including Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts until March 31; Grand Rapids Art Museum, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts through April 3; and Grand Rapids Ballet through April 12.  

GRAM canceled all scheduled public programming and private events through May 4, including Gala 2020: Black Tie Block Party. Grand Rapids Ballet plans to reschedule its performances of “Aladdin,” but did cancel “Spring Break for Kids: Little Red Riding Hood.” Meanwhile, Opera Grand Rapids moved the weekend performance of “Scalia/Ginsburg” online, allowing ticket holders to access the virtual performance from 7:30 p.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which hosts the popular Butterflies Are Blooming through April 30, “will open again as soon as we are safely able to do so,” according to its website. Most university performing arts centers, such as Wharton Center in East Lansing, have cancelled or postponed events.


Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids called off its final weekend of LaughFest — including its signature event, a gala dinner featuring comedian Jeff Foxworthy at DeVos Place. It was too late to cancel over 700 meals, so Gilda’s Club donated them to Mel Trotter Ministries, a local nonprofit that helps those experiencing hunger and homelessness.

“The ripple impact is huge on our organization and also the whole Greater Grand Rapids region,” said Wendy Wigger, president of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. “LaughFest pulls in a lot of foot traffic and economic impact on the restaurants and businesses. This was done with much thought and consideration and the health of the community in mind, particularly since we serve a high-risk population.”

LaughFest and the High Five donation campaign raises 15-20 percent of the local club’s annual operating revenue, and the last weekend typically generates about 30 percent of the festival’s overall proceeds. Gilda’s Club plans to reschedule most of the remaining events for a later date, but details about paying performers, venue rentals and other expenses for the rescheduled dates are still being worked out, Wigger said.

Gilda’s Club is extending its High Five campaign, an appeal that asks show attendees to donate $5, and is asking the community to consider donating virtually to the “High Elbow.”

“In the short amount of time we have had to digest this, right now, it’s hard to project the full magnitude (of financial impacts),” Wigger said. “We are hopeful that the community will continue to respond to the High Elbow campaign even in absence of the formal festival.”

Tickets will be honored for the rescheduled shows, or individuals can request a refund at the point of purchase. 

Those wishing to participate in the “High Elbow” campaign can do so on LaughFest or Gilda’s Club’s Facebook page or by calling 616-735-HAHA.

Another festival taking a big hit is the 2020 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, originally scheduled for April 22-May 10 in Kalamazoo. Because of the European travel ban and other factors, Director Pierre van der Westhuizen and the executive board decided to cancel the biennial festival.

He is investigating all options, including the possibility of rescheduling or planning a smaller event in the future, but it all depends on the global containment of COVID-19.

“We kind of have to wait and see what happens as to how the virus is playing out,” he said.

Canceling the festival will have a significant effect on the organization and the community because it draws visitors to area hotels and restaurants, van der Westhuizen said. It also puts a hardship on the artists, many of whom travel from other countries to perform. The event celebrates keyboard music and offers significant financial awards and commissions for pianists to enhance their careers.   

“There is no doubt that this has a major impact on the performing arts industry,” van der Westhuizen said. “Not only is it a blow for the institutions but the artists as well. I am a pianist by trade, so I have great sympathy. … We have a wealth of recordings. We plan to do some sort of feature or live stream event to help keep things going.”

The organization is asking patrons to consider donating their tickets for a tax deduction, or they can request a credit for any Gilmore performance through the 2022 festival or receive a full refund.

“I have no doubt it will have an impact,” van der Westhuizen said. “I am definitely exploring what we can do to help mitigate this. We do have a lot of sponsorships. Everybody has been so understanding.”


So far, Saugatuck Center for the Arts has rescheduled all of its coming programs and events. The Real to Reel Film Festival is set for May 8-9, and Film For Families is rescheduled for May 2. The “Heart & Soul” Jazz Fundraiser on April 3 is being rescheduled for October. The April 26 Hempy Keyboard concert with Maxim Lando, held in conjunction with the Gilmore Keyboard Festival, was canceled. SCA is waiting to announce a decision on the April 18 Small Glories concert for another week or so, said executive director Kristin Armstrong.

“Right now, I truly think we have been incredibly fortunate that we have been able to reschedule,” she said. “The film festival would have had the most financial implications. … What we have said is, ‘We can immediately transfer all of those tickets, or we’re happy to give you a full refund.’ I have also had a number of people donate the tickets back to resell.”

SCA is in the midst of changing its gallery exhibitions and opted to close for most of this week. Tickets for the summer Mason Street Warehouse theater season go on sale to the public this Thursday.

If the SCA is closed for an extended period, Armstrong may offer the space to nonprofits organizing food drives for local schoolchildren and other community needs.

“People want to help each other, and they want to do what is right,” she said. “We are going to have to be flexible, generous and patient people. To do the right thing for the whole, you are taking a hit personally for the good of the whole.”

Armstrong said the financial losses arts organizations and nonprofits will take from ticket sales, fund development or investments in the stock market remain uncertain.   

Most organizations are notifying patrons and visitors of cancellations and closures via website updates, emails and social media.

At St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, a March 19 concert by Marc Cohn already has been rescheduled for Sept. 11, with all tickets sold valid on the new date. However, the Clayton Brothers concert scheduled for April 16 was cancelled. A St. Cecilia fundraising event also was rescheduled for June, and all rehearsals for ensembles were canceled through April 10. 

Andy Buelow, executive director of West Michigan Symphony in Muskegon, rallied staff and volunteers to make phone calls to subscribers and ticket holders on Thursday afternoon after deciding to postpone its March 13 Masterworks 3 concert. Buelow plans to reschedule the concert for later this spring, but WMS may have to bring 18-year-old cellist Sujari Britt back at a different time because of her travel and school schedule.

Britt’s travel expenses, and the symphony’s early rehearsals, are expenses that won’t be recouped. Details such as renting the Frauenthal Theater for a second time are still being figured out.  

“Nobody has asked for a refund,” Buelow said. “We’re going to do everything we can to reschedule the concert, not cancel it. We’re looking at a couple of dates in May. We’re hoping we can minimize at least the financial loss to the symphony.”

If Whitmer’s executive order continues into mid-April, business could get more complicated. The symphony has a family Link Up concert April 15 and its next subscription concert, Mardi Gras in Muskegon, on April 17.

“My hope is we will be back to performing by then, but we are already putting together contingency plans,” he said. “Certainly, we would ask our audiences to consider having that become a donation to the symphony. That is the normal practice.”  

Beyond the financial implications, Buelow said there is a sense of sadness for the overall loss of arts and entertainment, which enhances quality of life, educational outreach and community pride.

“I just felt this profound sadness and also gratitude for what we do,” he said. “This is the first time in my life I have been asked not to do it for the public good, and most of the time we do our concerts because they are something that is meaningful and changes people’s lives. … This is when they need it the most, but we have to take a break right now and that is for the public good.”

Both The Intersection and 20 Monroe Live, popular concert venues in Grand Rapids, issued statements that they are monitoring the situation with regards to COVID-19 and plan to comply with the governor’s order. 

The majority of concerts at The Intersection are being rescheduled to a later date, but a few have had to cancel outright for now, said Scott Hammontree, talent buyer and partner. It’s impossible to know the financial implications at this point, and Hammontree said he is more concerned for his employees. 

The company plans to continue to keep regular employees working so that they will not see a reduction in their family income.

“If the shows reschedule, then in theory we would just move the ‘economics’ to a different time period, which is the best case,” Hammontree said in an email. “Since hosting concerts is our only income, the more of those that don’t reschedule  — the worse it will be for our company.”

Live Nation, which operates 20 Monroe Live, has formed a global task force with AEG, CAA, WME, Paradigm and UTA to address coronavirus concerns at all venues. They are recommending large-scale events through the end of March be postponed, and small-scale events follow orders set by local government officials.

“We feel fortunate to have the flexibility to reschedule concerts, festivals, and live events as needed, and look forward to connecting fans with all their favorite artists and live entertainment soon,” said Abbie Krestakos, marketing manager of 20 Monroe Live.

Read 5830 times Last modified on Friday, 20 March 2020 17:33