Arts Nonprofits Adapt To Coronavirus Closures

Mar 19, 2020

Playhouse in the Park is housed in a renovated train depot in Murray, Kentucky.
Credit Playhouse in the Park

As Kentuckians grapple with the closure of public-facing businesses ordered by Governor Andy Beshear earlier this week, arts nonprofits are adjusting to a new normal of limited revenue streams and canceled programming.

Playhouse in the Park is a community theatre in Murray. PIP provides a full season of plays and musicals every year, in addition to education programs for all age groups. The organization’s board of directors officially canceled all activities for the foreseeable future after seeing warnings from the governor, federal officials, and local health departments. Executive Director Lisa Cope said the cancelations are an unfortunate necessity to protect the community.

“Playhouse in the Park is trying to do everything we know to do to be a good citizen and community partner,” Cope explained.

As a nonprofit organization, Playhouse in the Park relies heavily on donations for revenue. For a community theatre, those donations come mostly in the form of box office revenue. PIP’s 140-seat theatre must regularly be filled to provide operating expenses that support their theatrical productions and educational programming. With shows canceled and no box office revenue likely for the coming months, Cope said the situation looks bleak.

“We are not sure what things are going to look like on the other side of this,” she said. “We are right now facing at least two months with basically zero income. And I’m not sure how you come back from that.”

One of PIP’s largest annual fundraisers is their summer Kids’ Camp. 100 children attend a two-week day camp where they rehearse and perform a scaled-down version of a Broadway musical. For 2020, the kids’ camp is scheduled to produce “Frozen, Jr.” Cope said she is “assuming” the camp will still take place, although registration is pushed back until May. Vice President Mike Pence warned the COVID-19 crisis could last well into July, potentially encroaching on the tentative Kids’ Camp dates.

In the meantime, Cope said she is looking at the possibility of providing virtual programming for children, as the pandemic shuts down schools throughout the country. 

“We are looking at some ways we can engage them, just to keep them interested and excited and help fill their days,” she said.

PIP joins community theatres throughout the nation in shutting down as the coronavirus spreads. The American Association of Community Theatres is encouraging its member organizations to take heed of the White House’s call for fifteen days of isolation and social distancing to stop transmission of the virus. The association is also publishing a list of resources for community theatres during the course of the crisis. 

Other arts nonprofits in west Kentucky are also suspending activities. The Yeiser Art Center, a nonprofit art gallery in Paducah, is shutting down through the end of the month. To keep services available to patrons during the closure, the center is offering virtual tours of their gallery.

Arts nonprofits receive grant funding and statewide coordination through the Kentucky Arts Council. The council provides support to both organizations and individual artists. The council has published a list of emergency resources for nonprofits at their website.  Kentucky Arts Council Communications Director Tom Musgrave said as the pandemic worsens, it is extremely important for Kentuckians to support artists and art nonprofits. 

“Even with the cancelations and the closing of facilities, remember your local arts organizations and artists,” Musgrave said. “They depend on interacting with the public for their livelihood.”