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'Heartbreaking': As Arts Organizations Adapt to Cancellations, Some Are Struggling

Krys Alex
Some art centers are having to cancel events and classes, others are able to move them online.

Arts and culture are a staple of the summer season on the Cape and Islands, and winter sustenance for year-rounders from New Bedford to Provincetown. With shows postponed because of the pandemic, institutions are adapting — but some are seeing staggering losses.



Amy Neill, director of education at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth, said it felt like an avalanche as class after class had to be canceled.

“So it was a bit of a whirlwind at first,” she said.

As the staff looked through the calendar, they realized online classes would be something worth trying.

Some classes work well online; others, not so much — like steel drumming, because not everyone has a drum. But a cooking class with a chef is going ahead, complete with tasting.

“We have curbside pickup that's arranged, and everything's packed up and sealed up, and heating reheating instructions are included for each student,” she said. “So they get to still eat what he just prepared for the class, which is pretty cool.”

The pandemic is also putting a crimp in the plans for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival on the Mayflower. The April 24 opening ceremonies in Plymouth and Provincetown have been postponed.


K. David Weidner, who co-chairs Provincetown 400, said he knows the new date for Provincetown’s opening ceremony in June may have to be changed again. He’s looking ahead to the main events in September, which include a formal gala and a visit by the replica ship.

“We are ... hoping that all things are green for us to have our commemorative activity with bringing the Mayflower II to Provincetown on the 10th or 11th of September,” he said.

Performing arts centers face a different challenge.

The canceling of big live events has cost the Zeiterion theater in New Bedford half its earned revenue for the season.

Executive Director Rosemary Gill said 70 percent of staff have been furloughed, and 31,000 people won’t be coming to New Bedford to see a show.

“I think the whole thing is heartbreaking and devastating,” she said.

Also canceled are Zeiterion shows for school children and the 25th anniversary of the New Bedford Folk Festival, which had more than 50 performances. 

“So from the timeframe from March to August, we would have hired seven hundred performing artists,” Gill said. “And we've canceled all those contracts. And that's — that's heartbreaking.”

Supporters have asked how they can help. Gill said the best ways are to hold onto your tickets for a rescheduled date, donate their value back to the Z, or become a member.

The Provincetown Art Association and Museum is one of the lucky ones. It succeeded in getting a so-called “PPP” loan -- that’s the Paycheck Protection Program from the federal stimulus bill.


CEO Christine McCarthy said the loan will cover about two-and-half months of payroll. A large roster of spring art classes has been put off — from drawing, to plein air painting, to sculpture.

“It's day by day,” she said. “I mean, am I going to open in July or are we not going to open at all?”

She’s trying to reschedule big shows for the fall, but under a cloud of uncertainty.


“I don’t know if people are going to want to come,” she said. “That’s, I think, the biggest part of having events where there can sometimes be more than a hundred people, are people going to want to do that? And that’s really the most unknown that I’m grappling with right now.”

McCarthy said one thing that gives her hope is the knowledge that arts and culture organizations are in this together. She’s doing video calls with nonprofits around Cape Cod and across the nation.

“That kind of thing has offered a little bit of reassurance, in terms of that we all have to get through this together,” she said.

These days, any bit of reassurance is a welcome thing.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.