The Yadkin Arts Council is one of many gathering places that has had to find ways to reinvent itself in the wake of a global pandemic that has caused the need for limited social interaction.
“When we shut down in March it was crazy that we all thought it would just be for two weeks and that we would be back in action in no time. Now it is five months later and things are still on hold for the most part,” said Executive Director Sarah Smith. “With the public gathering limitations still set at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, it has paused our programming in the Willingham Theater this summer, and now the Harvest Festival has been cancelled as well. We have also had to cancel art classes, gallery receptions, and our in-person summer camps. The uncertainty of when we’ll be able to host events again, at the capacity needed for success, has been a challenge that we have been facing for months now.”
Art is far from being cancelled though. Smith said the Arts Council has just had to find creative ways to continue its mission.
“On the bright side, we have been able to provide some art opportunities, just in a different format than usual. When we had to cancel the in-person art camp we converted it to a virtual camp instead. We built art kits for the students to use at home and they logged into Zoom once a week for five weeks for a digital class with Mrs. Andrea Raines. By offering this as a virtual opportunity we actually were able to sign up more students than if we had done it in person, and we even had students in other states including New Jersey! The classes and instruction were also recorded and stored online for access later if the student was unable to attend the ‘live’ class,” she said.
The Yadkin Arts Council’s Willingham Performing Arts Academy has also had to adjust how it operates.
“The Willingham Performing Arts Academy also had to face the reality of not being able to do their classes in person. When the state shut everything down, our staff at WPAA quickly transferred classes and rehearsals to a virtual platform,” Smith explained.”We were able to retain our students by doing this while continuing to offer them a creative outlet during a time when their other activities were being cancelled.”
The Willingham Performing Arts Academy will be offering 50+ hours a week of Private Lesson time in dance, music, and theater. In place of the usual course offerings, they are maxing private lesson time slots to ensure that all students have a safe way to continue to grow as artists and cultivate their talents. There are “drop-in” private lessons available, as well as two discounted 12 week semester packages, both of which have family discounts.
The pandemic has also lead to new technology that can be used for future productions in the Willingham Theater.
“We were able to secure a grant from the E.H. Barnard Charitable Trust to install a new video system in the Willingham Theater that will enable us to record and stream our productions; therefore making it possible for us to reach broader audiences even when we have to have reduced capacities inside the actual theater,” said Smith. “The Willingham Performing Arts Academy tested it out with a production of The Liar (without an audience) this summer, while maintaining the gathering guidelines and the social distancing recommendations that were put in place to keep everyone safe. Once we are able to obtain streaming rights for this show, we will be able to share it with the rest of the community.”
Art is still on display at the Yadkin Arts Council’s Welborn Gallery and is open for viewing within social distancing guidelines. The Arts Council continued its annual tradition of a juried art exhibition this summer, with winners announced during a virtual reception.
“The Welborn Gallery has remained open during this time, and while we are unable to have our normal gallery receptions, we have been able to invite patrons to view the shows at a safe social distance with 10 people or less,” Smith said.
For most of the summer the Juried art exhibition was on display featuring the works of 54 North Carolina artists.
“We awarded prizes for first, second and third places, as well as five Honorable Mentions during a virtual reception, via Facebook Live, on July 9. We also created an online survey to have the public vote for the two People’s Choice awards, and had another Facebook Live event a week later to announce those winners. The People’s Choice awards were exciting because we were able to reach patrons and families all over the world. Someone in Russia even voted! Who would’ve thought?”
Triad artists, Kevin Calhoun and Bryce Hauser works will be displayed in the Welborn Gallery from Sept. 9 through Nov. 9. This exhibit aptly named “A Collaborative Experience,” will feature large scale painted canvases by Kevin Calhoun, as well as metal sculptures by Bryce Hauser. A virtual reception is planned for Sept. 10.
The Arts Council’s on-site restaurant The Center Bistro has continued to operate as well with current operating hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We started off doing take-out only and once the state allowed for restaurants to be open for dine-in seating we opened our dining room and patio back up at a 50 percent reduced capacity. At this time we are offering counter service for our patrons and inviting them to stay and eat at our tables (which of course are sanitized after each use). We have also increased our safety practices by installing hand sanitizer stations at all of the entrances, implementing use of a fogging sanitizing machine, going to disposable serving products, and having our front of house and kitchen staff wearing masks (customers are required to wear them while ordering at the counter but are able to take them off once seated,)” Smith said. “Our goal is to be able to go back to table service very soon, along with real dishware as opposed to the disposable option. In preparation for this change in our services offered, we are doing a renovation to the Bistro kitchen. We were shut down for one week (August 31-September 4) and reopened on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The renovation features a new dishwashing room complete with a new sink and drying racks, rearranged prep spaces for a more efficient work flow, a new ceiling, repainted walls, and updated storage solutions.”
The time with fewer people in the Arts Center has also allowed for needed maintenance in the facility, Smith said.
“Generally, scheduling things like painting and repairs has to be done around our theater schedule which typically stays busy, but during this pause in productions, we were able to give our theater, control room, and dressing rooms a face lift. We also repainted our Red Wall Gallery and outdoor fountains,” Smith said.
While there is still much uncertainty about the nature of large gatherings, Smith said the Arts Council is making plans on what types of programming can be safely offered at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center.
“Looking into the future, we are rearranging the types of programming that will be presented in the Willingham Theater. All large scaled musicals (which feature larger casts and group singing) will be pushed to 2021 and will hopefully be replaced by some safer options (once we are able to move into a phase that allows it). Ideas include stage plays with smaller casts and no singing. We are also rearranging our offerings for the Willingham Performing Arts Academy classes so that they feature more options for private lessons (as opposed to large group lessons). And by adding smaller stage plays, we will also be able to offer performance opportunities as well. Also, our Junior Appalachian Musician program will be going virtual for the Fall 2020 semester,” she said.
“Please know that we are hanging in there and doing everything that we can to keep the Yadkin Arts Council’s mission of transforming lives through the arts viable and strong until we are able to return to business as usual,” Smith concluded.
For more information on virtual and in-person events at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center, visit www.yadkinarts.org.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.