Brattle halves audience sizes (and its revenues) as nonprofits seek ways to stay alive in pandemic (updated)
After the city and school district took their giant, coronavirus-related steps Thursday, a number of cultural institutions announced decisions heading into the weekend, with many worrying about how the loss of revenue will hurt their already delicate presence in an expensive area and eyeing technological solutions to staying active and relevant.
Update on March 14, 2020: Late Friday, the Brattle decided to suspend all programs as of Saturday “through at least April 2.” In a letter, it noted that the Boston Underground Film Festival, Wicked Queer, the Independent Film Festival Boston and the DocYard programs had all suspended or postponed their events as well.
A number of approaches were taken, though most involved actually closing the doors to customers and patrons. The Brattle Theatre is going a different way.
Saying in a morning email that they “know that many of you are thankful to have a place to come to escape the anxiety we are all experiencing, even if just for a couple of hours,” staff announced a policy beginning Friday of capping attendance at all Brattle events to 120 attendees – about half capacity – to allow for social distancing as recommended by health experts to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that could threaten The Brattle’s future, as well as the future of any arts nonprofit or small business in our community,” said an email from executive director Ivy Moylan and others. “The Brattle has survived so many challenges since 1953, but nothing like this. We are going to need your support to ensure our programs will be around after the dust settles.”
The theater is already cleaning more and telling staff – and customers – to stay away if they’re feeling unwell or have had contact with anyone known to have the Covid-19 virus.
Nearby, folk club Passim said Friday afternoon that it was canceling performances and in-person classes through April 1, including its Sunday Live Music Brunch. It was working with the musicians affected by the decision “to host their performances online instead so they can continue to generate income while we are closed,” staff said.
The Dance Complex in Central Square pivoted Friday from its previous position – open, but cautious – to close Monday through March 29 for a reassessment. “Our decisions were made with extreme care and influenced by the most current information from leading health officials,” staff said in an afternoon email.
“We are researching online class models and working with teaching artists to help them create online content,” and staff is working remotely during scheduled hours to “continue supporting dance as we deal with the daily fluctuations of the crisis.”
The organization would lose $20,000 in a week of closings, costing the dancers who present there a collective $16,800. “We are a nonprofit organization that supports countless freelance artists. We ask that you please continue supporting your teachers and the organization that supports them,” staff said. (Another Central Square nonprofit, the ImprovBoston comedy club, also shifted gears just a day after announcing it hoped to stay open. It announced Friday that it was suspending all shows until at least April 1, noting that as a creative outlet and important source of income, it was “an incredibly difficult decision for us to make.”)
Arts-focused businesses were also eyeing an expansion onto the Internet. Though the crafting community space Gather Here might seem perfectly situated to sell supplies to people expecting to shelter in place, owner Virginia Johnson took to social media to urge customers to keep the Inman Square shop in mind – and on Thursday, said she began thinking about ways to go online in ways that are “still interactive and community-focused.”
“I’ve never done anything like that, and it’s intimidating, but we still want to give it a try,” she said, drawing suggestions from followers and even offers of technical support.
Cable access stations
Cambridge Community Television is closing Sunday through March 20 and planning to assess then when it is safe to reopen, executive director Susan Fleischmann said, noting that meant canceling classes and drop-ins and forbidding equipment checkout and facility use – and taping no on-premise live programs. “We are interested in how we can continue live programs creatively with the use of the technology available,” Fleischmann said. The station planned to accept submission of shows online, saying shows would run as scheduled if they arrived at least 24 hours ahead of their broadcast.
The Somerville Media Center, already closed to the public, on Friday extended its closing through March 31 and said it too would be taking shows sent in online. “We are optimistic about the challenge of working remotely with community producers to figure out ways to get fresh content shared on SMC’s media platforms,” said Brian Zipp, the station’s executive director.
Matching a decision by the Harvard museums, the MIT Museum announced in a morning email that it would close at 5 p.m. Friday and stay closed “until further notice as we monitor the rapidly changing concerns associated with the coronavirus.”
Concerns at the Armory
The Center Arts at the Armory in Somerville is also canceling public events scheduled in all spaces and closing its the Armory Café from Saturday through March 29.
“In the upcoming weeks we will certainly miss the many communal, uplifting and transformative experiences that we all have come to know and love at the Armory,” executive director Stephanie Scherpf said. But like other nonprofits, there was a very real concern about staying alive financially, as well as staying healthy in body.
“It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic will have significant financial repercussions for everyone. Individuals, small businesses and nonprofit arts organizations like Arts at the Armory that do not have contingency budgets will be in the most precarious position. We will be working to find resources and means of support to keep Arts at the Armory afloat,” Scherpf said. “Please keep us in mind, along with other nonprofit organizations, small businesses and artists, and do what you can to support us.”