DC Artswatch — COVID Edition

With a surge in COVID-19 cases looming, the District Council is expected to vote to extend D.C.’s state of emergency — declared on a parade-less St. Patrick’s — by 45 days, through mid-June. Given the consensus that measures to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections will save lives, cultural organizations have had no choice but to cancel events and close their doors, sacrificing most (and now most likely the remainder) of their spring seasons.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which was to begin on March 20, was D.C.’s most visible annual-event cancellation. “Peak bloom” went forward anyway, earlier than forecast, with Metro stations closed to discourage visitors.

Area film lovers have been hit hard, first by the loss of the Environmental Film Festival in March, then by the postponement of Filmfest DC, which would have taken place in late April and early May. (A free virtual festival, Filmfest DC at Home, will launch on April 23.) The DC Jazz Festival, too, scheduled for June, has been postponed.

Among museums, the National Children’s Museum reopened in its new Ronald Reagan Building home in late February … and closed three weeks later. The National Building Museum was to reopen in March upon completion of a three-month renovation project; it did not.

Having brought the curtain down on “Degas at the Opéra” after two weeks, the National Gallery of Art is closed until further notice, with public events canceled through Sept. 7. A major survey of Genoese Baroque art that was to open in May has been postponed until 2021. Likewise, all Smithsonian museums (and the National Zoo), the Phillips Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Kreeger Museum, Hillwood, Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks, Dumbarton House and Tudor Place — you name it — are shuttered, with no reopening dates announced as yet.

Painful enough for D.C.’s free museums, these closures will cripple those that rely on admission fees. The situation — especially the uncertainly — is even worse for performing arts ensembles, presenters and venues, now scrambling to reschedule productions and appearances; in many cases, this won’t be possible. Strathmore is closed “for the time being.” Washington Performing Arts events are canceled through June 7, the end of the 2019-20 season.

Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts has canceled classes at the Center for Education. Spring performances at The Barns at Wolf Trap are being moved to the 2020-21 season and the summer 2020 schedule of Filene Center performances is being reconfigured. Details will be announced as they become available.

Ticket sales are the lifeblood of theater, opera and dance companies, orchestras, choruses and the organizations that present and host them, along with other ensembles and artists. Lacking this cash flow, they must make drastic budget cuts, draw down often inadequate endowments and look to government agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals for emergency support.

Regrettably, in addition to the loss of income facing individuals who work in the arts — creators, performers, producers, administrators, educators and a range of support staffers — the emergency measures are sure to result in the permanent closure of some D.C.-area cultural entities. Others will take years to recover. In the meantime, organizations are stepping up online engagement, streaming past performances and offering virtual tours and other educational programming.

Additional coronavirus-related cultural news:

Closed through May 10 (and probably longer), the Kennedy Center has canceled more than 400 performances, laid off hundreds of part-time and hourly workers and furloughed the National Symphony Orchestra musicians [Update: The musicians union negotiated an agreement involving salary reductions to keep the NSO players from being furloughed]. Most recently, just days after the $2.2-billion federal stimulus package — including $25 million for the center — was passed, some 250 administrators were furloughed for five weeks without pay, triggering widespread criticism and the introduction by Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisconsin) of a bill to rescind the grant.

Aiming to raise $115,000 to support the D.C.-area theater community, service organization theatreWashington has created the Taking Care — COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Onstage and offstage theater professionals who currently reside in the D.C. metropolitan area and have worked here within the past two years can apply for $500 grants to provide relief from loss of work and assist with emergency expenses. Medical emergency grants of
between $500 and $5,000 are also available.

The Washington Ballet postponed its 2020 gala, originally set for May 8, and has launched a Stronger Than Ever fundraising campaign, with gifts up to $200,000 matched dollar-for-dollar through the support of Eve and William Lilley. The company’s April presentation of “Swan Lake” in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater has been rescheduled for June 13 to 21.


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