Despite significant setbacks in the face of Covid-19, Gilbert’s arts community is emerging with shows and classes, but on a lower scale and with many safeguards in place.
“We are allowed to reopen, but we don’t know how quickly people will feel comfortable coming to arts and culture venues,” said Kayla Kolar, CEO of HD SOUTH, echoing the sentiments of much of the arts community in town.
HD SOUTH, home of the Gilbert Historical Museum, opened with limited hours in early June.
The center canceled 22 classes from March to May as well as the well-attended Memorial Day commemoration. Spring, usually its busiest season, brought no revenue from admissions, programs, retail or facility rentals.
The annual quilt show, this year titled “100 Years, 100 Quilts” in a nod to Gilbert’s 100th anniversary, will hang until end June.
The capital campaign that aims to construct a new building and renovate old ones also is continuing.
Summer is the facility’s slowest season.
“Historically, we have had many international visitors in the summer. Because of this pandemic, we expect that international visitation to drop off, but we are curious to see if those who live locally might not travel as much and will be looking for things to do close to home,” Kolar said.
Downtown Gilbert-based Art Intersection, the site of thought-provoking art shows and creative photography workshops, has also reopened with shorter hours.
Owner Alan Fitzgerald said the gallery lost revenue as a result of postponed receptions and workshops and canceling year-end exhibitions. Online sales were the only income during the pause.
“This, of course, hurt our artists and their presence in the community,” said Fitzgerald, adding “Our receptions become social events, filling the galleries with artists and their friends and family.”
Neither Kolar nor Fitzgerald were compelled to lay off any workers.
“We have always run a lean organization, and will continue to plan for slow recuperation,” Fitzgerald said.
Kolar obtained a Payroll Protection Program loan.
Theaters have been the hardest hit in the community.
Hale Centre Theatre completed a huge renovation project last year and was anticipating a full slate of drama, musical theater and children’s shows for the spring and summer when the pandemic hit.
Some shows were canceled and others postponed while the theater adjusts to the new realities. The theater-in-the-round with its 350 seats takes pride in its cozy atmosphere – but it is an adverse setup during a pandemic that demands social distancing.
“We can only say that we look forward to the time when we can safely reopen according to local health and government officials,” owner Dave Dietlein said in a statement. “We hope that the worst is behind us and look forward to entertaining our audiences at the right time.”
Hale’s website assures patrons that postponed and canceled show tickets will be credited to a future performance.
The message also requests patrons to consider donating their credit to ensure the theater is able to remain resilient, referring to them as “Hale’s Angels.”
“Like so many, we currently face staggering financial challenges as a result of these cancellations and postponements. It would be greatly appreciated as it would go a long way to ensuring our future,” the message read.
Meanwhile, the Town of Gilbert postponed a Gilbert Symphony Orchestra concert to Oct. 11 and its annual spring diversity celebration, Gilbert Global Village Festival, to Nov. 7.
At Actors Youth Theatre, newly employed artistic director CJ O’Hara, who replaced Tracie Jones, pledges to carry out his duties “one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Among the limited opportunities available for its 17th season, AYT is presenting “Les Miserables: School Edition” July 10-25 with double casting at Zao Theater in Apache Junction.
The theater, which usually has a full slate of summer camps and intensive shows, is presenting only a few during the summer.
“We know we are going to have parents and students with trepidation in the short and long term. We accept and expect that,” said O’Hara. “What we can do is be that place where they can go and be healthy and safe while having a great time.”
O’Hara is also an instrumental music teacher at Heritage Academy in Laveen and owns his own music education studio in Chandler.
“If they come back for classes in-person in June, we welcome them,” he said, referring to camps at AYT. “If they wait until July or August, that’s fine too. They need to be on their own terms and we need to be ready.”
That seems to be the feeling among most Gilbert arts organizations.
“While I am incredibly sad at the sickness and loss of life, and I understand the fear and confusion that people are experiencing to varying degrees because of the unknown, I am also encouraged by the resilience of those who have embraced the change that has been thrust upon them and have found a way to continue doing life in the face of adversity,” Kolar said.
As head of a private nonprofit, Kayla is mindful that HD South does not have “unlimited resources” to purchase equipment such as temperature-scanning machines.
However, new regulations are in place for visitors, including wearing a mask, physically distancing and not touching the interactive exhibits.
Volunteers and employees have rigorous screening and surface cleaning protocols to adhere to as well.
The facility will embrace any other ways to make it safe to visitors, she said.
Art Intersection will also limit the number of visitors it admits to the gallery and that use the labs at a given time.
Some organizations are looking to find a silver lining in the situation.
“We get the chance to open a new chapter at AYT,” O’Hara said. “Closing everything down and doing a reevaluation of what works, what doesn’t and what we can do better is a great thing.”
Kolar said it is history in the making.
“It is so important that people look to arts and culture to help bring back the joy in life,” she said.