Viewpoint: Reimagined arts community will help fuel post-COVID recovery
By Paul Weagraff
This past year was particularly hard on artists and arts organizations throughout the state. That’s not news. But what is news is how so many shifted gears to keep operations up and running, bringing the arts to life in Delaware. From scaled-back live performances and exhibitions to virtual programming, the arts community has demonstrated their unique capacity to adapt, rethink, and recreate their craft.
DelawareScene.com, the state’s online arts calendar, maintains a robust listing of opportunities, including visual, performing, and media arts. While the nature of offerings has changed over the past several months, the quality and range have not. In just the past month alone, I was able to “visit” an exquisite online gallery, listen to a heartwarming radio production of “A Christmas Carol,” drive through a spectacular holiday light show, and witness one of the most innovative “Nutcracker” ballets I’ve seen in years.
In addition to entertainment and inspiration, at a time of isolation and brokenness, the arts provide comfort and healing. Artists and organizations alike have continued to present uplifting programming around Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month, as well as workshops for patients and their families dealing with cancer. Their commitment to the power of the arts in confronting the social challenges and illnesses we face, both physical and emotional, remains steadfast.
Nevertheless, the challenge for the arts over the past several months has not gone unnoticed. Fortunately, there has been some relief through federal and state CARES relief funding. The Delaware Division of Small Business and the Delaware Division of the Arts have been working closely with artists and arts organizations to ensure that they can access the relief funds available to them. These special funds have helped to mitigate the huge losses in earned revenue resulting from closed doors, cancelled programming, and mandatory audience restrictions.
The State of Delaware and local foundations recognize the importance of investing in the arts during these challenging times. As our economy resurges in a post-pandemic world, the arts will be critical players in revitalizing communities throughout the state. The symbiotic relationship between the arts, tourism, and hospitality industries is well-documented. We know that a robust arts community will strengthen other sectors of the economy as well.
Just as important though, is the ongoing support that volunteers and individual donors provide. As artists and organizations have shifted to new program configurations, they have challenged their regular patrons to shift with them. The COVID pandemic has forced organizations and patrons alike to refocus their energies. Coming out of the pandemic over the next several months will present challenges of their own. It is unlikely that the arts will “return to normal.” Rather, we all expect a revitalized arts community that shares features from the past, while incorporating new practices implemented over the past several months.
Theaters, museums, galleries, and concert halls alike are eager to reopen to full houses and crowded exhibitions. In the meantime, they strive to provide outstanding programming through online vehicles, reaching audiences around the world. Virtual performances, workshops, and exhibitions have attracted viewers from across the country, and from as far away as Singapore and Budapest. Let’s hope that this unanticipated, but serendipitous, consequence of the past 10 months brings new audiences to Delaware as we regain our footing in the world of live music, dance, film, theater, and visual arts.
Paul Weagraff serves as director of the Delaware Division of the Arts.