On April 17, fifty artists, presenters, and agents gathered for our first Coffee Hour Conversation, an informal virtual chat about the challenges and opportunities facing the performing arts industry during these complicated times. The conversation, titled Keep the Arts Thriving: How Can Artists, Agents, and Institutions Work Together in Revenue-Free Models During This Time of Social Distancing? was anchored by Seth Soloway, Director of The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College; Juan José Escalante, Executive Director, The José Limón Dance Foundation; and critically acclaimed storyteller and artist David Gonzalez. Our conversation is summarized here.

“It is hard to plan for the future when you don’t know when the future is going to start.” —Juan José Escalante, The José Limón Dance Foundation

The conversation kicked off with each of three moderators updating the group on current challenges, solutions, and initiatives. Finances are certainly top of mind; Juan José Escalante of The José Limón Dance Foundation discussed the fundraising being done to help dancers who now find themselves out of work, and David Gonzales touched on the challenges unique to independent artists.

“As a storyteller and poet, being in two dimensions is weird.” —David Gonzales, artist

But despite these challenges, creativity and innovation have not stopped. Presenters and artists alike are finding new and unique ways to stay connected with fans and patrons. Limón Dance is offering online classes and working on web and app updates that will better allow for the delivery of online content, and David mentioned a recent investment in Vimeo Pro. Seth told the group about our The PAC in YOUR Living Room project, a new effort to develop and distribute virtual content, of which this conversation is a part.

“When we open, how do we open? How to do we get out of our spaces?” —Elliot Fox, Executive Director of Mamaroneck’s Emelin Theatre

Top of mind to presenters in the industry are questions about re-opening. What does the future hold? Will we be operating at reduced capacity? Will there even be an audience? Where will we find artists willing and able to present work in these new circumstances? “A major challenge for a presenter is that you don’t own the work,” commented Soloway, and talked about how The PAC has been leveraging long-standing relationships as a starting point for virtual collaborations with artists, thinking about “who we love and who loves us.” Developing equitable dialogue and honesty in current and future negotiations with artists will be key to successful partnerships — “if there is transparency, there is trust,” reminded Gonzales.

Alex (Alexandra) Baer, Executive Director at Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, talked about developing an “adaptive culture,” ideas for now, but also for 6 months, 9 months, 12 months from now. Performing arts venues will have to reconsider how and where they present work. Baer is considering alternative spaces — smaller, out of doors — as a starting point. The new initiatives and new types of content currently being created will get us through the present, but they also need to be considered as an integral part of our future. Holly Brown of the Cohoes Music Hall outside of Albany reminded us of the role the arts play as a key economic engine for many neighborhoods — will, for example, restaurants be able to thrive (or even survive) until the theatres reopen? The arts will need to lead the recovery.

Creativity is the key, concluded Juan José Escalante. And to keep the creative juices flowing, Rachel Cohen, ED of Cadence Arts Network, suggests finding camaraderie and space to release tension….and don’t forget to howl. 

Keep an eye on our website for information about the next conversation. We hope you will be able to join us!