COVID-19’s Effect on the Dane County Arts Sector
By Olivia Mizelle
COVID-19 has altered the scope of our everyday lives in almost every way, including the way we perform and consume art. The performing arts have taken a huge hit since social distancing restrictions have been in place, and in Dane County those restrictions just became stronger with the issuing of Emergency Order #10 banning all indoor gatherings.
This order means that until at least Dec. 16, dance studios and other arts organizations that have been operating at least partially in-person must resume fully virtual classes. Since COVID-19 will maintain a strong hold on our community and the world for months to come, some questions can be raised: Will Zoom and other virtual formats currently being used to keep arts rehearsals and performances alive during this time remain a resource for the arts post-pandemic? Will art appreciation be forever changed?
Zoom’s revenue soared 169% from the prior year in April 2020 according to CNN Business, and has continued to be a major resource for connection during this time of social distancing. This new way of life through a screen has awakened many to the reality that in the age of technology, many things can stay virtual even without the threat of the coronavirus. Businesses around the United States have said they will keep many employees working from home forever, and it is possible that this could be the same for the arts. If in person instruction has proven unnecessary, it is possible that dance and theater could continue to offer virtual classes and expand the scope of their teaching and performance abilities.
However, Dane County dance studios fighting to be allowed to hold in-person classes would not support the claim that virtual instruction is just as good as face-to-face. A change.org petition using the hashtag #DaneDancesSafely has been circulating social media, demanding that Dane County officials and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers “Allow Dance and Performing Arts Schools to remain open for current & future PHMDC Orders.” In their petition, Performing Arts Educators and Families states, “These steps (to reduce the spread of COVID-19) have largely ignored the mental health aspects of isolating children and are keeping them from physical activities that promote their overall well-being. Dance can be a very important activity to a child, and equally, an important social outlet for them.” Dance studios in the area posting this petition on their social media accounts include Synergy Dance Academy and Ballet U. It currently has over 2,000 signatures, approaching the goal of 2,500. Zoom classes certainly limit socialization abilities, but for those unable to participate in dance in future years, could still be a very useful alternative.
The Verona Area Community Theater (VACT) is another organization affected by the pandemic. VACT has been able to remain partially open during the Emergency Order because acting classes are qualified under education and dance classes have switched to a more education based approach (learning about dance history, etc.) to allow for in person teaching. Lydia Benz, member and teacher at VACT as well as a fellow Cat’s Eye staffer, said this year has been a “year of change,” and her and her fellow teachers have had to adapt to social distancing and mask requirements while still teaching dance. Although VACT has been able to make changes to remain open, they have also held many rehearsals virtually and all of their upcoming performances are being held via Zoom. Benz was able to direct one of these virtual performances, saying the experience was “enlightening.” She was able to learn new things that she otherwise would not have been able to, which shows a small positive of the pandemic’s effect on the arts and an upside to continuing virtual options after the pandemic.
As for art appreciation, the massive amount of signatures on the #DaneDancesSafely petition as well as the generous COVID-19 Cultural Organization grant recently provided to VACT by Governor Evers are examples of our community’s ongoing appreciation for the performing arts through this trying time. Although arts organizations around the globe are struggling right now, it seems that at least in Dane County, there will be eager spectators ready to watch a dance performance or a play once it is safe to do so.