GUEST COLUMN: Restoring arts will be vital to returning to normal

Keep supporting arts institutions so they remain vital when we need them again

For The Sunday Gazette

Everything has changed.

We must isolate and focus all civic energy and economy on saving lives and supporting our medical system.

It makes total sense. It is necessary.

And our country will need the arts to restart our communities, our economies and our democracy.

The arts are where we convene across skills, customs and differences. The arts are how we collaborate.

Proctors, UPH and theREP, among many others, will be where the citizens of the Capital Region will heal when this is over.

And over it will be. We just do not know when.

Certainly, we will not start as quickly as we stopped.

We will begin to convene cautiously at first.

But along the way, simply maintaining our $75 million of historic properties will take millions.

It is difficult to focus on this cultural need when we still are desperate for masks and ventilators, yet some of us must.

The Proctors Collaborative — that is Proctors in Schenectady, Capital Repertory Theater in Albany and the new Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs — just did an absolute shutdown, along with all of our peers.

It included laying off 80 percent of our staff; putting millions of dollars of high-tech sound, lighting and systems safely to bed; and building a new method for the remaining staff to communicate with one another, plan for an unknowable future, inform thousands of patrons, protect beloved historic properties and try to imagine when and how to begin to restart.

Make no mistake that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s leadership has made clear what had to happen and why.

Also make no mistake that we do not sit by idly, even with our own internal crisis of $22 million a year of revenue dissolving immediately to zero.

Now we work to support the local sewing community’s effort to make and distribute 35,000 masks.

We imagine web-based educational programming for our many students while at home. We build a film program of art for our patrons and broadcast the best of past productions from theREP.

We weren’t prepared for this disruption, yet we are all fully involved in it.

But we must be prepared for the needed restoration.

When our communities are opened again, the need for what we do will be unprecedented in our lifetimes.

I ask that private philanthropy, in addition to supporting the medical emergency we are in, consider supporting the maintenance needs of cultural organizations with beloved properties so that they remain functional.

I ask donors and patrons to speed up their gifts if they are able.

I ask ticket-holders to be patient as all of us try to figure out an unknowable future schedule.

I ask government to be aware of our cultural institutions’ needs, in addition to the primary need to support our health care systems.

If we allow our cultural resources to collapse, we will have repeated the mistake we made in not being prepared for COVID-19. The writing is on the wall.

It will take us all to survive this pandemic — and it will take us all to return to the human necessity of being together.

Philip Morris is CEO of Proctors Collaborative.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion


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