Even Covid Can’t Stop Translating Plan Into Action

If readers have been paying close attention, you probably know I currently run an historic theater in Macon, GA. Last week, the Macon Arts Alliance released the cultural master plan the community had been working on for the previous year or so. It won’t surprise you to learn that it had originally been slated to be released at the start of March, but concerns over coronavirus delayed that. There is likely some argument to be made that the plan should have been released at a later time when things were more stable, especially since it calls for the creation of a cultural liaison staff position by a county government facing a financially problematic environment.

However, the plan was developed in parallel with the next iteration of the county master plan and the current election cycle will see a change of mayor and council members so it was important to get the cultural master plan into circulation.

I participated in about 90% of the public meetings that were held for the plan, plus served on a subcommittee so I have some investment in it. Macon is fortunate in that it is one of the communities in which the Knight Foundation is highly active. They, alongside a number of other local foundations, provided the funding needed to bring a team from Lord Cultural Resources to conduct all the meetings and data crunching.

One thing I feel the cultural plan does well is acknowledge the connection between race, household income and access to cultural assets:

The majority of assets are located in or around downtown Macon. Average income in the downtown area is in a lower tier ($14,700-60,600); this is because, despite higher rents in new downtown developments, many students live in the downtown area. Beyond downtown, most cultural assets are located west of the Ocmulgee River, where income is higher on average. Macon’s large African-American community can be better served, as currently most assets are clustered in areas with whiter populations. The east side, where incomes are generally lower, has relatively few cultural assets beyond key attractions such the Ocmulgee Mounds, Fort Hawkins, and the recently renovated Mill Hill Community Arts Center.

The video that accompanies the plan almost immediately acknowledges the perception of crime and blight associated with the community. These same issues came up repeatedly in the community conversations that informed the plan. In fact, one of the biggest lingering image problems that exists is that the downtown isn’t safe. So while a lot of the cultural assets may be downtown, they may not be accessed as much as they could be. (I obviously have a vested interest being the leader of one of those assets.)

While I think the plan is still oriented too much on a conventional concept of arts and culture, (I grumble at the Bach underscoring a video for a community that boasts significant rock and soul roots), even before the protests surrounding George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, there was an acknowledgement of the work that needed to be done to create a more equitable environment in the community.

Keeping in mind my frequent refrain not to engaged in whole cloth adoption of bylaws, policies, etc of other organizations as your own, I link to the plan for communities that might be considering similar efforts so you can get a sense of the things you need to be considering and addressing.


Please Yield To Oncoming Road Boxes Before Proceeding To Dance On Stage

I had a post today on ArtsHacker with the click-baity title, You Can’t Just Let People Tear Your Clothes Off Anymore. The post talks about the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) reopening guideline which were released last month.

Since I have been reading and writing about different guidelines, as well as reviewing our state governor’s orders, I didn’t feel like there was anything unexpected or onerous proposed in the first half of their document.

As I write in the ArtsHacker article, if your organization interacts with IATSE personnel, it is helpful to know what their expectations will be when you work with them. I also thought it would be useful for organizations that hadn’t formulated human resource policies regarding “…training, testing, reporting, quarantine length and leave policies, the guide provides a good framework for creating them, including some information on paid leave laws in the U.S. and Quebec.”

Where I thought the guide is most valuable is in the second half where it applies all the standard best practices that are general knowledge to some of the specific activities associated with putting on a performance. This can be especially true for touring performances. When you are operating out of a different physical space every night or so, there is always a bit of reinvention required. When that is complicated by the need to take care to limit exposure to a virus, the level of attention to detail required increases many times over, especially when you are actively participating in a live performance experience.

It is no longer acceptable to rush up to a mirror, apply make-up and discard kleenex and cotton balls with the intention of cleaning it up later. At the very least, you have to hand it off to someone wearing gloves or holding a trashbag. As the title of the ArtsHacker post suggests, even having wardrobe personnel standing by in the wings to pull off one set of clothes and help you don another set needs to be planned and executed with even greater discipline than usual.

Given the restricted space of many theater backstages and the pauses in movement of personnel and equipment throughout a space required by Covid-19 guidelines, I anticipate a not insubstantial amount of time will be required to effect the load-in and load-out process. This may mean tours will need to scale back the amount of equipment they travel with,  add more days between performances, or travel shorter distances between event dates. This may translate into fewer cities being included in a tour due to time constraints or the economics of needing to pay more personnel for longer hours.

You Can’t Just Let People Tear Your Clothes Off Anymore

You’re Invited To My Pool For A Concert

I am sure a lot of people are wondering what other people are doing about performances as you plan for the day you can actually start again. Classicfm.com shared a number of images and videos of the way different venues have been spacing both musicians and audiences.

To me the most novel idea and location was a cello concert at the bottom of an empty pool in Germany. Are the acoustics of a pool conducive to the cello range?  There is another article with more pictures from other angles. The lane markers made for good spacing guides and the grade of the floor as it moved toward the shallow end helped with sightlines.

In Hong Kong, they had plexiglass between orchestra members, but in The Netherlands, they had empty seats and dividers to separate audience members.

There are a number of pictures of people arrayed in seating at social distance which may strike many as a bit depressing given the appearance of sparse attendance.

One image I found very striking was that of the London Mozart Players performing in a church. While there was no audience because they were video taping, when I saw all the musicians wearing vibrant red facemasks and bits of red clothing, my first thought was that they really made it work even spaced apart. Granted, some of that is due to good audio and video editing and the ability to zoom in close to the musicians, but for most of the video it is pretty clear everyone is spaced further apart than usual.



Culture Track Report Says The Same People Won’t Be Returning

You may have seen the news today that the results of the Culture Track Covid-19 report were publicly released today. While some of the data about audience willingness to return to arts and culture organizations is a little dated due to the survey being conducted at the end of April through May 19, the majority of the findings can be very valuable to arts and cultural organizations.

They had only expected about 50,000 people to participate but had over 124,000 respondents to the survey. Participants ranged from knitting groups and walking clubs to organizations you might typically associate with arts and culture activities. Back on June 17, Advisory Board for the Arts hosted a webinar where staff from Slover Linnet and LaPlaca Cohen gave an early preview of the results to organizations that had participated in the study. If you want a deeper view of the results, you can watch the webinar.

The infographic layout of the report that came out today does a good job presenting the data, but there is one thing I don’t think they made clear enough which may cause people to question the results. Especially since the methodology is explained in a separate document rather than included as an appendix to the Key Finding report.

Since so many of the respondents were people on the mailing lists of arts and culture organizations around the country, you would correctly assume that it might skew the data. The Culture Track folks worked with another organization to distribute the survey a representative sample of the US population. The results you see in the key findings report are weighted to be representative of the US population.

The webinar presents both the core subscriber/ticket buyer response percentages and weighted percentages.  While the core supporters are much more likely to say the arts are important and worthy of preservation than the general population, they also more likely to expect organizations to implement strict health and safety protocols upon re-opening.

A couple of the bigger takeaways for me:

• People said they were feeling lonely, bored and disconnected and one of the things they missed most was sharing experiences with family and friends. In the webinar, the presenters suggested if there were a way for arts organizations to digitally allow people to share experiences, it would potentially serve a large need.

• Something to keep in mind is that people may want a much more interactive experience in the future. 81% of respondents said they were doing something creative while quarantined. Cooking, singing, handcrafting (knitting, painting, pottery, woodwork, etc), photography and writing were among the top responses.

• Many people were engaging in digital cultural experiences in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. In the webinar, the speakers noted that the demographics of people participating digitally was more diverse in terms of education, gender, race/ethnicity than those attending in person. They suggested that digital content might be a way to attract more diverse groups to in person experiences over the long term. (Obviously online content needs to align with an in-person experience–including how welcome one feels.)  There are also some who appreciated digital content as a solution to concerns about affordability, transportation and schedule.

• Unfortunately few people reported paying for digital content. In the webinar, they said 2% of people reported they paid for digital content, but in the Key Findings report that came out today, it says 13% have paid for content. It made me wonder if they received additional or corrected data since June 17. Most of the other numbers I was using to cross reference the webinar and Key Findings report remained the same.

• In general, what people crave the most upon an anticipated return to in-person experiences is ability to enjoy oneself/de-stress in the company of family and friends.

Obviously, a lot of nuance and detail not included here so take a look at the report and/or webinar. Overall the the title of this post reflects the reality of the next normal. Those that physically engage in-person won’t be the same as before in both the literal sense demographically and metaphoric “no one can enter the same river twice” sense. The faces may be familiar, but they will have different expectations.



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