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Nov. 6, 2020: On Post-Election Angst

Good day,

And how are you feeling this week?

Here in the U.S., it might depend on how you view the election tallies and how that reflects your outlook for the future.

For many of us, the anxiety-ridden, extended vote count and fraught transition ahead parallels the continuing uncertainty and volatility of the pandemic as we read about record-breaking covid spikes, the various developments on vaccine testing and the return of increased restrictions to gatherings.

If we were looking for clarity this week or a decisive clearing of the path forward — we would no doubt be disappointed in a still deeply divided nation with a record number of covid cases.

The news abroad is hardly heartening with new global closures, eased only slightly by the UK’s OK that performing arts organizations can still rehearse and live-stream.

Some recent surveys that project into 2021 are also sobering.

With additional government funding and donor giving up in the air, American Theatre magazine asked the question to not-for-profit theaters across the country: “How long can companies hold on before they are forced to shut their doors for good?”

Eight months into the pandemic — and counting — it’s an unspoken question that’s on many a mind.

If restrictions on gatherings persist, if there is no more government support, if donor philanthropy dries up, the magazine’s study reports that “almost a third of the …companies surveyed will be forced to consider closure some time in 2021. …Only 23 out of 60 are confident that they will not need to close before the pandemic runs its course. You read that correctly: Almost as many theatres surveyed think they’ll need to close next year as think they will not need to consider closing at all.”

Museums also face further cutbacks and furloughs indicating staying open at low levels of occupancy is not sustainable, according to a report in The New York Times.

“The amount of time that a museum will be able to survive at a 25 percent capacity depends on several factors, including the size of its endowment and cash reserves, as well as how much government funding it has received and will continue to bring in, despite the pressures of the pandemic, Ms. [Erika] Sanger [executive director of the Museum Association of New York] said. That is the question that keeps museum directors up at night: Will limited capacity persist so long it causes financial disaster?”

But with the promise of new leadership here, there’s hope.

So let me end on three relatively upbeat dispatches.

Upbeat No. 1: Findings from a test event with 1,200 attendees in Germany suggest that indoor concerts have a 'low' impact on infection rates, providing they have the one-two punch of excellent ventilation and follow strict hygiene protocols. Could this be he beginning of data gathering that could eventually support indoor gatherings under certain conditions?

Upbeat No. 2: Justine Simons writing in Harper’s Bazaar wrote of chairing the World Cities Culture Forum’s first-ever digital conference. “Over a long but incredibly uplifting day, 40 cities came together over 12 time zones to share the challenges they are facing and to work together in designing solutions to protect culture. However you chose to frame it — building back better, renewal or reset — what is clear is that all major cities see culture as key to both their economic and social recovery.”

Which leads me to my favorite report and Upbeat No. 3: True it was a non-binding referendum and it was just for a single city, but when voters in Jersey City, N.J. were asked if they would support an “arts tax” — yes, a new tax in the middle of a pandemic, in the midst of economic instability, and when arts groups are such easy targets of budget cuts — the overwhelming answer by the public — rather than the politicians — by 64 percent! — was “yes.”

Sometimes you just need a little vote of confidence.

— Frank Rizzo


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