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Twin Cities arts organizations join forces to ‘flatten the curve’ on COVID-19

Many arts organizations canceled, postponed, suspended or rescheduled events — and some are providing online versions and/or substitutions.

stage curtain lowered
Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash

In just a few days – tentatively last week, furiously over the weekend – life changed in the Twin Cities and across much of Minnesota and the United States, because of a tiny virus that looks like a holiday ornament, or a strange bouquet.

In a race to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of COVID-19, many arts organizations canceled, postponed, suspended or rescheduled events. Some theaters tried to hold on at least through opening night – so many people had worked so hard, for so long! – but after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency on Friday and strongly discouraged gatherings of more than 250 people, it became clear to almost everyone that shows could not go on.

By then, the Guthrie had already canceled all remaining performances of “Twelfth Night” and “The Bacchae” and upcoming performances of Vie Boheme’s one-woman show “Centerplay.” Soon Chanhassen Dinner Theatres  suspended performances of “The Music Man” through April 12. Mixed Blood shortened its run of “Interstate” by a week, then closed it altogether on the weekend. The Ordway canceled everything through April 19, including “The Color Purple” and “The Last Ship” starring Sting.

At first, museums canceled events but planned to keep their galleries open. Within a day or two, the Walker, Mia, the M, the Weisman, the Science Museum, the Minnesota Children’s Museum and others announced they were closing their doors. So did the American Swedish Institute and Norway House. All Minnesota Historical Society historic sites and museums closed. The annual American Craft Show, set for April 16-19 at the St. Paul RiverCentre, was postponed until October.

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The Minnesota Orchestra, the SPCO and the Schubert Club canceled all concerts – except for one. On Friday night, its usual MPR live concert broadcast night, the Minnesota Orchestra, led by guest conductor Juanjo Mena, played to an empty house. We listened at home as pianist Kirill Gerstein gave a passionate performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 2. Following intermission, the orchestra returned with Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony, which had its premiere in 1942 when the city was under siege by Nazi Germany. With the world under siege by coronavirus, it was a little too close for comfort, but it wasn’t about comfort. And we’ll never forget it.

The Minnesota Opera postponed the world premiere of “Edward Tulane,” the opera based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, to a future season. Same with “Don Giovanni.” Theater Latté Da has suspended performances of “La Bohème” through April 1. The Dakota postponed all events through March 26. The Twin Cities Winter Jazz Festival, headlined by Delfeayo Marsalis, was canceled, perhaps to be rescheduled in October.

The University of Minnesota closed all major venues to the public systemwide. The rest of the Northrop 2019-20 dance season was wiped out: Paul Taylor Dance Company, Martha Graham Dance Company, the State Ballet of Georgia. The Cowles Center postponed all scheduled spring 2020 performances. The Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival was postponed. Also Pee-wee Herman’s “Big Adventure 35th Anniversary” stop at the State Theatre.

Zoos closed. As of Monday, March 16, all St. Paul Parks & Recreation facilities are closed. So are all St. Paul Public Library locations. Club Book has canceled the rest of its spring season. The Loft’s second annual Wordplay Festival, which last year drew more than 10,000 people downtown, will be a virtual celebration this spring. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Textile Center are closed.

And that’s not even everything.

Artscape is shifting its focus

Because of where we live, because of the Legacy Amendment and our state Legislature’s support of the arts, because of the Minnesota State Arts Board, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, private and corporate funders, the Jerome, McKnight and Bush Foundations and others, we Minnesotans are used to a thriving and diverse arts economy, with plenty of choices for things to do on any given day or night. In just a few days, that changed, too.

Those of us who frequent the arts are sad and disappointed. But many who create, produce and present the arts are in a far worse place. Most arts organizations don’t have reserves of cash for rainy days, never mind global pandemics. Some won’t survive. Many artists live from gig to gig. Some are looking at cancellations and lost work and wondering how they will pay their rent.

For the duration, Artscape is shifting its focus to artists and arts organizations – how COVID-19 is affecting them, how they are coping, what they are doing to stay viable, and what they need. We’ll be talking to a lot of people, and to organizations mobilizing to help artists through this scary and difficult time.

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This is the season of season announcements; we’ll continue to report those because hope is a good thing. Also events happening further out we can all look forward to. We’ll share good news when we have it, and bad news when we must. We’ll continue posting picks – arts-related things to do – but these will largely be online events and opportunities. For as long as experts urge us to practice social distancing, we will not point toward anything that asks people to show up in person.

Over the weekend, as emails about closings and cancellations poured into our inbox, we posted news and updates on the MinnPost Artscape Facebook page. This would be a good time to like our page, if you haven’t already. We’ll post new information daily, sometimes several times a day.

If there is something you hear about that people should know, or something you would like us to look into, you can send a message through our Facebook page or email to pespeland@minnpost.com. We are all in this together.

The picks

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a large and impressive Concert Library of video and audio recordings. Now would be a great time to get to know it. All concerts were recorded live before an audience, all are available on-demand and all are free. Upcoming concerts have been canceled through Sunday, March 29, a span of time that includes all four concerts Pekka Kuusisto would have played in his next visit to the SPCO. The concert library includes three recordings featuring Kuusisto.

The Metropolitan Opera has canceled all performances through March 31. But every night until it reopens, the Met will stream an encore presentation from its popular Live in HD series, now in its 14th year, meaning there are a lot of operas to choose from. This began Monday, March 16, with Bizet’s “Carmen” (starring Elina Garanča and Roberto Alagna) and continues tonight (Tuesday, March 17) with Puccini’s “La Bohème.” For opera fans in Minneapolis, the “La Bohème” broadcast is especially timely, since Theater Latté Da’s production would be running now. Also, the Met’s “Bohème” stars Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. Gheorghiu is scheduled to perform in the Schubert Club’s International Artist Series on April 22. That’s still on, as far as we all know, so this is a great opportunity to see and hear her before then. Encore presentations will begin at 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. CST) each night on the Met’s official website and will then be available for an additional 20 hours. Each will also be viewable on the Met’s Opera on-demand apps.

Franconia Sculpture Park has canceled events and closed its administrative office to the public until April 1, but the park itself – 43 acres in Shafer, Minnesota, on the St. Croix Trail, with a rotating collection of more than 120 contemporary sculptures – remains open from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. The park is beautiful, the art is interesting, you can bring a picnic, and social distancing should be no problem on all those acres in all that fresh air.