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June 12, 2020: On Openings, Delays and a New Kind of Art

By Frank Rizzo

Good day,

I’ll understand if you have to take a deep breath after a week of emotional ups and downs, one of mixed messages, divergent scenarios and new systemic challenges. A clear path emerging? Not yet.

There were some promising news reports at first with some museums in Israel opening their doors. Some Italian museums welcomed visitors again — with restrictions — which was just fine for those who prefer appreciating art with some elbow room. As the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice prepared to reopen — also with limitations, England’s Tate network of museums announced it was planning to re-open in August, barring an increase of cases.

Ah, yes. Monitoring the pandemic. This week, new data revealed upticks in cases in certain regions of the U.S. as states lifted some restrictions to contain the virus, sending shudders at the possibility of a surge.

But that didn’t stop Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who surprised the state’s performing arts companies with his Phase III directive, allowing indoor fine arts performance halls to operate starting next week with up to 50% of the total listed occupancy. (Theater companies will stay closed because of the moratorium by the Actors' Equity Association. No actors, no show.) When that moratorium would be lifted -- and what the sure-to-be-detailed plan would be -- is still to be determined. Judging from what the entertainment industry in Hollywood is proposing, it's going to be a page-turner.

In Europe, one theater is offering a plan and the picture certainly isn't pretty -- or inviting, The Berliner Ensemble theater group offered a sobering view of one possible future when it posted a photo of what the theater would look like in September with spaced seating, transforming from a theater with 700 seats to one with 200.

But resumption of live indoor performance life, at least in Manhattan, is still far off, as the New York Philharmonic reminded us when it announced it was cancelling its fall season. Audiences won't have to decide just yet.

Meanwhile arts institutions in the U.S. continue to grapple with the widespread accusations of systemic racism that grew out of the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. As plans finally do emerge for eventual re-openings, returning to “like it was,” is no longer an option in many levels. Things are sure to be different. And yet another unknown.

Lastly, a note of hope -- and a word of caution: As arts groups use Zoom to virtually engage with their supporters and express their creativity, they just may have also accidentally discovered a new art and audience. Reports of new imaginative on-line endeavors — including live events — are increasing and finding fans. But where will it lead? One fascinating piece by Caitlin Vincent for The Conversation warns performing arts groups to not forget their worth. It was a lesson sadly learned too late by the newspaper industry.

—Frank Rizzo


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