Don’t Forget Lessons Learned About Business Insurance

One of the panel sessions at the recent Arts Midwest-Western Arts Alliance virtual conference was on Reopening. The one panelist that really caught my attention was Anna Glass, Executive Director of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH).

She said when the Covid emergency hit, the Cultural Institutions Group, a collection of major arts institutions in NYC area which had been organized some years prior, provided a great resource for information sharing during the crisis.  Apparently there were group calls seven days a week for the first two months to discuss the issues and they have scaled back to four times a week now. The group organized itself into various working groups to help figure out solutions to problems and organize advocacy efforts.

Glass is the co-leader of the insurance working group and spoke about the rude awakening groups like hers had when they discovered how lacking their insurance policies were.  One thing they didn’t realize was that there were caps on the amount of money their policies would pay out. So while DTH face the cancellations of events that annually brought in over $1 million, their policies were capped at $30,000. On top of that, while they were so sure that they could make a business interruption claim based on government action due to Gov. Cuomo’s executive order, they learned their policies would only cover them if there was physical damage to their buildings.

Glass said her insurance working group provided a lot of information to the greater Cultural Institutions Group membership about how to read their policies, make claims, etc. The working group encouraged everyone to make a claim even if they didn’t think they had a chance of having it approved just to make some noise about the issues with business insurance.

Glass said she paying greater attention to her insurance policies and really pushed back on her (previous) insurance broker for “not working for me.” She is determined not to make the same mistake twice.

The brief silver lining Glass sees in all this is that arts organizations in the NYC area are cooperating, collaborating and advocating as a unified groups in a way they hadn’t before. She hopes that becomes an ingrained habit/practice moving forward.

I wanted to bring this up in general for the broader lessons about cooperation and advocacy this has for us all, but specifically to remind people to pay attention to things like insurance policies and contracts moving forward. I am sure it will be nigh impossible to get appropriate coverage for epidemics, but you still need to think seriously about what types of coverage you need and what you will or won’t accept from a policy. There is so much other crap going on right now, it will be hard to effect change but eventually there will likely be a movement to reform insurance coverage.

The Most Important People Social Distance In The Penalty Box

I mentioned last week that I was in the middle of virtually attending the combined Arts Midwest-Western Arts Alliance Conference. I will probably have a couple entries of observations on particular sessions. However, I wanted to throw out two smaller bits of information I came across that I didn’t think could fill an entire entry.

First, as much as everyone is talking about streaming being the wave of the future and the only way arts organizations can survive, an attendee from Mississippi noted that a significant portion of the community she served did not have reliable high speed internet.

There was a fair bit of talk at the conference about the Covid environment providing the opportunity/forcing organizations to provide experiences that connected with a greater range of their local community.  For some communities, this means that the live experience may be the only viable experience.

Likewise, it is important to remember that even though contactless payment like tapping and swiping might be the safest, there are a lot of people in our communities who are unbanked or underbanked for whom cash is the only possible medium of exchange. Be sure to consider these challenges when pledging people will find you welcoming and more accessible in the future.

Further up the Mississippi River, in Grand Rapids. MN was my favorite story about leveraging local features and assets to meet the challenges of live performance during Covid-times. Shantel Dow, Executive Director of the Reif Center said they were holding “boat-in” concerts on lake shores where the audience arrived on pontoon boats to watch the land based performance.

She also mentioned they were holding events at an outdoor hockey rink. It is roofed against rain, but open air on the sides to allow for important ventilation and air exchange.  What I really loved was that they were selling the penalty boxes as VIP seating. From the pictures I saw, it looked like most people bring their own chairs and arrange themselves at a safe distance from others around the rink.

I don’t remember the exact number of events she said they had done since Covid restrictions began, but it seemed impossibly high. However, looking at their Facebook page, between the boat-in concerts, the ice hockey arena events and the movies they are projecting on the side of their building, a high number of events seemed within the realm of possibility. I am happy they were able to make so much work for them.


Meanwhile, Next Door In Austria

The title of today’s post references the fact yesterday’s post was about cultural funding in Germany. I hadn’t planned it this way, but I wanted to draw attention to the lengths various venues in Austria went to this summer in order to perform in front of live audiences.

According to a piece on Vox, the Salzburg Festival in Vienna went ahead with their centiennial anniversary festival with audiences subject to the following conditions:

Among the rules: Audience members were asked to wear masks and social distance at one meter. Seating capacities were reduced, and every second seat in every concert hall was locked so people couldn’t get around the restrictions. There were no intermissions at performances, or refreshments available.

Simply buying a ticket meant agreeing to engage in contact tracing, if it came to that: Tickets were personalized with names, and audience members had to show an ID when they entered any venue. ..

In the end, the festival attracted more than 76,000 visitors — a little more than a quarter of last year’s — from 39 countries during August. According to the festival’s final report on the event, “not a single positive case has been reported to the authorities.” And of the 3,600 coronavirus tests carried out on the 1,400 people involved in festival preparation, just one came back positive in early July.

What was more interesting to me was the process the Vienna State Opera used to determine the testing schedule for their employees. Encouraged by the success of the Salzburg Festival, they planned to reopen last month and implemented a system of color-coded lanyards to indicate which employees were most at risk for exposure to the Covid virus.

Singers and people working directly with the singers are part of the red group and are tested every week (since they can’t always wear masks or keep distance onstage). Administrators are part of the orange group and are tested every four weeks. The yellow and white groups — people who don’t have close contact with artists, such as delivery people — are only tested if there’s a known exposure. And everyone wears colored lanyards to denote their risk, while groups are instructed to stay apart.

Read the whole article because there are interviews with individual artists about how they are impacted. The tl;dnr version is – artists are risking their health for even less pay than before

The Grass Is Greener In Someone Else’s Museum

I just want to take a moment to brag on some museum friends and also reinforce the idea that one shouldn’t discount the experiences found in small towns as of lower quality.

Long time readers know that before I moved to Georgia, I lived in Portsmouth, OH, a fairly rural town in Appalachia which has often had the misfortune of being the go-to poster child for the opioid epidemic despite having started rebounding from its worst point before other communities even recognized they were in crisis.

When I was living there, the local museum presented the work of Elijah Pierce, a man who started wood carving and barbering at a fairly young age. He did a number of biblical scenes whose imagery he used to support his work as a traveling preacher. Pierce had been born in Mississippi, but settled in Columbus, OH. When the work came to the local museum, they had a couple people talk about Pierce’s work, including a gentleman who would often walk over from the nearby Columbus College of Art and Design where he taught to chat with Pierce in his barber shop, surrounded by many of the carvings.

Last week there was a story in The Art Newspaper about a big show of Pierce’s work at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia that contained the following quote (my emphasis):

But when Nancy Ireson, the chief curator of Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, first saw them in 2018 she was amazed she had not encountered the work before. Ireson asked her fellow curator Zoé Whitley, the director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery, what she knew about Pierce. “Neither of us had come across his carvings in the siloed contexts of so-called ‘fine art’ exhibitions of 19th and 20th century artists,” Whitley says.

If you type Elijah Pierce’s name into a web search engine now, you will see this show is a big deal with many news stories written about it. (Granted, in the cultural news vacuum created by Covid, this may be less of a feat than it seems. Though the civil rights themes of the work would have likely still gotten traction.)

When I think about the fact I could wander in to look at Pierce’s work for free multiple times at my leisure, which I definitely did, and was able to learn about the work with people who really knew it well–and now people are swooning over the significance of Pierce and his work, it goes to my original point about not discounting the potential quality of an experience.

Gaining access to Pierce’s work was not an anomaly for this museum. There were a number of artists whose work showed there and got picked up by galleries. Some of them I bought before they gained greater notoriety, some I didn’t. Sometimes I regretted that later. I know for a fact that I walked out the door past two gallery owners who were coming down to look at the painting I had purchased and was carrying. Though certainly it wasn’t the only or most prestigious work they were coming to see that trip.

In this particular case, the community benefits from the fact museum directors were people who had curated good relationships over the course of their careers and were able to arrange for some interesting art to show. Likewise, gallery owners trust their judgment and check out work they display–or work with the museum to display the work of artists they represent.

I am sure the number of pieces of Pierce’s work that I saw are just a small portion of what you might see in Philadelphia so I wasn’t getting the blockbuster experience The Barnes Foundation might be offering. However, to drive into Portsmouth, it would be easy to assume you wouldn’t get to experience that small portion. What you definitely wouldn’t get in Philadelphia is an invitation to wander across the street to the museum directors’ home/gallery to nosh on some food and chat–something everyone who showed up for the opening got whether you were an old friend or new.

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