Arts Organizations Forced to Find New Audiences During COVID-19 Shutdowns

Many performing arts groups and museums are turning to social media as a new platform where they can entertain or enlighten their communities

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With COVID-19 dealing the arts community a stunning blow—forcing the shutdown of New England concert halls, museums, and other venues—the online world is now giving many performers a new sense of community.

"I think it's a form of escape," said Erin Evarts, the executive director of Vermont's Lyric Theatre Company, which is based in South Burlington.

The community theater group has been posting videos to Facebook of volunteer members and alums performing some of their favorite Broadway show tunes.

The free series, called "Lyric from the Living Room," is aimed at keeping performances accessible to fans even when live shows can't happen during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Stay home and stay safe," Evarts said of the message behind the social media performances. "And watch them perform for you on your tablet!"

Lyric's is just one of many examples of how performers and venues are highlighting how the arts can still create connections, even while we're physically distant from each other as we take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"This crisis is absolutely pulling people together," said Tom Deneberg, the director of Shelburne Museum.

Shelburne Museum, a famous Vermont landmark, is also using Facebook as a place to suggest family activities to do at home.

Those activities are based around pieces in the collection and often urge families to get outside for a bit, Denenberg noted.

Video tours, educational programming for kids, and other content is in the works, the museum director added.

"One of the things we are here to do is remind the community and the state we will get through this," Denenberg said. "It's something we take really seriously—our role helping people through troubled times; just as we are here when the times are good."

Musician Alex Budney turned what many would see as a loss into an opportunity.

"Immediately, my four to five gigs a week turned into zero," Budney said, describing the impact on him from the new coronavirus.

Budney then decided to bring an open mic night he books in the Mad River Valley to social media.

Twice a week, Budney spotlights 12 acts from Vermont and beyond in live sets from wherever they are.

Visitors can even tip the performers out of their digital wallets, Budney noted, to give them a little cash at a time when traditional clubs or bars are closed.

"It's giving people a new sense of community in a different way," Budney said. "And it's giving people something to look forward to."

It seems that old theater phrase is true: the show really does go on, despite the virus that's upended all our lives.

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