Inspired By You
The arts have always depended on the generosity of patrons and donors. But this year, more than any other time in our 40-year history, that point was driven home by the impact of COVID-19. The first week in March, we were open; by the second week, we were closed. And by the end of the month, we had canceled the rest of our season, losing more than $400,000 in expected revenue in an instant.
But then you stepped up.
More than 62% of ticket holders donated back their unused tickets. Two of our donors made sure our student ushers would be paid through the end of the quarter, even though the theater was empty. Many of you made significantly larger gifts than usual, or additional ones on top of earlier donations. Sponsors for programs we were forced to cancel fulfilled their pledges anyway. With your enthusiastic support, our virtual gala surpassed the goal we’d set for the live event we had planned to hold in March. Finally, we are grateful to local and national government and foundation supporters for much-needed emergency relief funds.
So … with the theater dark from mid-March on, you might be wondering what Meany staff have been doing to keep busy. The answer to that is: a lot!
The Show Must Go Online
For more than 40 years, Meany Center has been a presenting organization. Practically overnight, we became producers. Between mid-March and the middle of June, Meany staff conceptualized, developed and produced 32 videos to support a range of mission-critical goals.
Staff member Juniper Shuey working on virtual content.
Tiny Living Room Concerts
A critical element of Meany Center’s live gala, Center Stage, has always been a performance by a leading artist during the event. When we decided to pivot from a live gala to a virtual one, we knew we still wanted to include performances. With no stage and no visiting artists, we decided to turn to the deep pool of talent at Meany Center. We asked several of our staff and board to video themselves on cell phones performing in their own homes. Thus was born our Tiny Living Room Concert Series.
We were thrilled that the brilliant pianist Joel Martin, who had been invited to perform live at the gala, contributed his own Tiny Living Room Concert — a jazz version of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” — from his home in Connecticut.
Our first concern was for the artists whose performances we were forced to cancel. Though we couldn’t present them on our stage, we still wanted to make sure their work was seen and heard. So we created video “curtain speeches” for each of the eight artists featuring an introduction by Executive and Artistic Director Michelle Witt (shot on an iPhone from the piano bench in her own home), that linked to online content of their work. The curtain speeches were sent out on the day the live performance would have happened, making sure that artists and audiences could still find each other.
Mother of Invention
Necessity spurred us to develop online content — and in the course of doing so, we began laying down a framework for the future, even after live performances on our stage resume. Technologies such as livestreaming can expand access for our community, while additional online content such as video interviews or interactive Q&A with artists can deepen audience engagement. It will also support performances by students and faculty in the UW academic arts departments when having an audience in the theater is not possible. We’re already planning our first virtual outreach project with Third Coast Percussion in the fall in place of the community event we’d originally scheduled for May.
DEI+A = Stronger Together
Like other historically white-led arts organizations, Meany Center is taking a hard look at ourselves, and committing to do the work to become an actively anti-racist institution. Our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access committee meets regularly; plans include a racial literacy resource list, facilitated training for staff and board, expanded recruitment and hiring practices, and an organization-wide framework for engaging around issues of race and racism among Meany staff, board and our wider community.