Even with full or partial closures, galleries and other venues are providing quality content.
COVID can’t stop creativity. Though many local arts centers and theaters are fully or partially closed, quite a few are providing high-quality virtual content. Back in March, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute got a day’s notice that its theater had to close as part of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Undaunted, BMFI pooled its resources and video archives. “Within two weeks, we had our virtual programs up and running,” says Andrew Douglas, BMFI’s senior director of education and administration. “We’ve had a robust response. We had really vocal expressions
Media Theatre went dark one day before its show, Baby, was set to premiere. Eventually, performances were canceled for the rest of 2020. “Having done that with our Broadway series, we’ve focused on our school,” says artistic director Jesse Cline.
October marks the start of the venue’s new music theater classes. Taught by Cline and resident music director Ben Kapilow, they include individual and group instruction. Students participate in weekly three-hour sessions about the fundamentals of theater. “We have an acting segment, a vocal segment, and a movement or dance segment,” says Cline.
Over in Chadds Ford, Brandywine River Museum of Art is open Wednesday-Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Masks are required, and nonmembers need to buy timed tickets in advance. But anyone can view the virtual content surrounding the museum’s two exhibitions, Votes for Women: A Visual History and Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Somerstein. Both speak to the history of voters’ rights, a hot topic in this election year. When the museum hosted a virtual discussion tied to Votes for Women, the response was overwhelming. “We had a ton of people from across the country,” says Andrew Stewart, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. “We started to attract people from outside of our area. I got an email from someone near London.”
Elsewhere in the region, Wayne Arts Center is holding classes online and in-person (indoors and outdoors). It also has an online gallery of works created by local artists during the quarantine. Main Line Art Center is hosting a plethora of literature, fine arts, music and foreign language Zoom classes.
It has digital events specifically for people living far away from one another. “They can plan virtual get-togethers,” says Lisa Getz, MLAC’s director of marketing and communications. “That gives you time to create and spend time with families and friends.”
MLAC’s virtual summer classes were nearly sold out. It’s planning in-person programming for fall, along with digital classes and workshops. “Adult online classes will consist of painting, drawing, ceramics and more,” Getz says.
The huge interest in free virtual programs doesn’t necessarily translate to much-needed income, so arts centers are finding other ways to generate funds. This fall, MLAC is charging for classes and working with an artist whose exhibition will be both on-site and virtual.
Prices vary for events at Brandywine River Museum of Art. Its fall programming includes lectures, discussions with local artists, and roundtables. BMFI created the virtual Theater 5, an homage to the four theaters in the building. Buying tickets allows viewers to watch newly released films in their homes at specific times or for a certain number of days. Offerings include documentaries like Shadows of Freedom, about Jewish resistance fighters who staged a coup against Algeria’s Nazi-controlled government, and Desert One, a new look at the events surrounding the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 52 Americans held hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Lighter fare includes the British romantic comedy Eternal Beauty and the family-friendly Australian film H Is for Happiness.
BMFI plans to continue its free Monday-night film discussions and weekly “Ask Andrew” online event, where Douglas answers questions submitted by patrons. Its “Remote Classroom” is a biweekly, fee-based seminar on a variety of film topics.
Virtual offerings do have downsides. “If you have an actor standing on a stage and you’re in the theater, there’s an energy there,” says Cline. “That’s what we’re trying to create virtually, and it’s a challenge.”
But virtual programs are here to stay—at least for the foreseeable future. “It has opened up a new avenue, and it’s finding the way down that avenue that works best for the student,” Cline says.
The international response to BMFI’s programming is so big that it can’t be discontinued. “Once we reopen, we do plan to offer a virtual component to our education programs,” says Douglas.
“We’re thinking that this is a permanent thing,” adds MLAC’s Getz. “It’s really important that we meet our students where they are. It’s important for us to offer things to the community that help them through [the pandemic].”