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Unlike the rest of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center’s operations, the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids has seen little activity during the pandemic. Unlike the rest of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center’s operations, the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids has seen little activity during the pandemic. MIBIZ PHOTO: ANDY BALASKOVITZ

Wealthy Theatre ‘hardest hit’ for Grand Rapids Community Media Center

BY Sunday, September 27, 2020 05:47pm

Grand Rapids Community Media Center — which runs WYCE-FM radio station, GRTV, The Rapidian news outlet and the Wealthy Theatre — continues to serve the community during the pandemic but had to scale back many of its operations this year.

Wealthy Theatre has seen the most negative effects from the pandemic out of GRCMC’s organizations, said GRCMC Executive Director Linda Gellasch. Maintaining the historic venue built in 1911 with the lack of rent revenue from performances is no easy task.

“Wealthy Theatre was the hardest hit,” Gellasch said. “If we’re not providing the venue then we don’t have any income coming in.”

The theater was on track to have its best year yet before it shut down and canceled about 50 events. If it’s closed through 2020, which is likely, cancellations could reach 400.

“Wealthy Theatre was just on such an upward trajectory in terms of the community taking part in events and performances,” Gellasch said. “It looks like theaters might be the last thing to open back up.”

GRCMC’s other entities have been operating but are still at a limited capacity, Gellasch said. Filming equipment from GRTV is now rented out through a curbside program, and the radio station is still able to safely operate because such a small number of volunteers need to be in the studio.

WYCE is primarily supported by fund drives and underwriting from local venues and restaurants. Though community funding support has decreased, the radio station is still at full capacity, Gellasch said.

The Rapidian — a citizen-journalist driven online news outlet — turned to internal GRCMC staff to report stories, primarily focusing on information about the pandemic.

“It’s fairly difficult to go out, find and train journalists right now,” Gellasch said. “It’s still open to citizen journalists, but we’re not able to be out in the community and can’t do it the same way we used to.”

While persevering through virtual and remote work, it hasn’t been the same experience, Gellasch said.

“We call ourselves the media center because we want to gather people together and make use of all these facilities and tools,” she said. “We can kind of keep it going but engaging the community is hampered. People are really excited to get back and be around each other again. You miss something when it’s all virtual.”

GRCMC secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan that allowed it to delay staff cuts, though the staff has shrunk with furloughs and two eliminated positions.

“We had to make some tough decisions,” Gellasch said. “But we were able to keep everybody a bit longer and keep the majority of our staff, and that was very foundational.”

The pandemic has been particularly hard for nonprofits like GRCMC as energy and resources are often prioritized for organizations serving needs like food and housing, and arts groups tend to follow, Gellasch said. 

But maintaining a strong arts community is crucial for the city, she added.

“Art is quality of life, expressions of citizens,” Gellasch said. “It’s more than just surviving, it’s living, expressing and engaging with fellow community members and it directly goes to quality of life.”

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