In late January, I was invited to a town hall-style presentation by The Grand Opera House. I’m glad I accepted.
The Zoom session briefed those participating on what Delaware’s largest performing arts organization has been doing to stay relevant since the doors to its three theaters (Copeland Hall, The Playhouse, baby grand) were closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic. Endeavors such as drive-in movies, drive-in concerts, a drive-through holiday light show…
All commendable pivots for a brick-and-mortar operation built to host shows, not stage them in parks and parking lots. However, I already knew about those projects — and that’s not why I’m glad I Zoomed in.
Turns out, I needed a pep talk. How badly, I didn’t realize until the half-dozen presenters were concluding their updates.
Out & About’s relationship with the performing arts is symbiotic. So, when the arts are threatened, we’re threatened. To say both of us have been treading water in heavy seas is not a stretched analogy. And no one can tread water indefinitely.
So, it was invigorating to hear The Grand staff pridefully recap what they had pulled off to date. And the buoyancy in their voices as they revealed future plans was uplifting. (The Grand has more outdoor endeavors planned, with a return to indoor performances tentatively scheduled for this fall. Other area performing arts centers are operating under similarly optimistic timelines.)
No, this wasn’t a report from the warehouse of a food bank. Or an update from a frontline hospital worker. The challenges of an arts organization pale in comparison.
However, the pandemic has made a case for the arts no advocacy group could rival. COVID-19 has been a merciless showstopper. And turning out the stage lights has made us further appreciate their brilliance.
Yes, life is pretty dull without live performance as our companion. Oh sure, there’s always livestream. But would you rather experience Hamilton in a theater or see it from your sofa? It’s the difference between skiing a mountain and watching a ski video.
Those who work at performance venues already knew that. They were regular witnesses to the magic that happens when a performer and audience share the room. As acclaimed director Jonathan Demme succinctly put it, “Nothing beats live performance. Nothing.”
So, the upbeat tone of The Grand’s presentation was no doubt fostered in part by the encouraging financial and moral support it is seeing from its patrons. Such a vote of confidence under current circumstances is undoubtedly inspiring.
And that inspiration was certainly enhanced with the recent announcement that $15 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) of federal financial support is being directed to performing houses across the nation as a direct result of the Save Our Stages lobbying efforts. Delaware stages will see some of that money.
To put that amount in perspective, the National Endowment for the Arts received $162 million (with an “m”) in the 2020 federal budget — and that was a 10-year high.
So, why $15 billion now?
Perhaps because more legislators are realizing that the arts don’t simply provide richness to our lives, they enrich our economy. Nationally, arts and culture is an $800 billion industry, responsible for about 4% of GDP, said Delaware Arts Alliance Executive Director Jessica Ball, citing a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That same study revealed that in Delaware alone, arts and culture is responsible for more than 9,000 jobs.
In other words, supporting the arts is good business. That is, however, only part of the argument.
Courtesy of COVID-19, we now know what it’s like to live in a world with the lights turned out indefinitely. Personally, I don’t know anyone who wants to live in that joyless place.
— Jerry duPhily