Special Section: A year of Covid-19 » OUR LOST YEAR

The arts go dim due to COVID-19

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Art galleries and museums are slowly resuming normal operations, theater troupes are preparing shows for the stage, and state officials are working with venues and talent across New York to launch a performing arts series.
The Little Theatre was closed to the public through much of the pandemic, though it recently started letting people book theaters for private screenings. Staff are eyeing an early spring reopening. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • The Little Theatre was closed to the public through much of the pandemic, though it recently started letting people book theaters for private screenings. Staff are eyeing an early spring reopening.


But it has been a slog for arts organizations, whose bottom lines have been decimated by the pandemic. Music, the visual arts, and performing arts all need audiences to thrive, but the state shutdown that began in March forced stages to go dark, concert halls to fall silent, and museums to cut off access to patrons.

Even though the state lifted restrictions on some businesses and activities, musicians and other performing artists are still limited in their ability to stage live, in-person shows.

All of this has meant that local creatives have had to get, well, creative. Early in the pandemic, musicians and bands started streaming live performances from both polished and makeshift home studios using Facebook, Instagram, and even Zoom. Many used the lull to push out new singles and records, or to work on collaborative projects.

Instead of inviting the public in to view paintings, collages, photographs, sculptures, and other forms of visual art, galleries curated online exhibitions. Organizers of the popular First Friday art openings pivoted and turned the monthly event into a series of online presentations by artists.

While its doors were closed, the Memorial Art Gallery offered virtual tours of exhibits. Likewise, the George Eastman Museum directed would-be patrons to its online collections catalog, which includes thousands of digitized items. Both museums are now open.



The Fringe Festival shifted its roughly 175 productions to a mix of pre-recorded, on-demand shows, and live performances streamed online. Several of the area’s film festivals also shifted to online programs and screenings.

As spring and summer approach, the seasons hold a promise of some return to live music, dance, and theater performances, though it will be some of the larger institutions and productions testing the waters.

Geva plans to offer a full outdoor production in August, for example. And after postponing and ultimately canceling its 2020 event, the Rochester International Jazz Festival is set to happen this year on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus, which organizers say will better allow for physical distancing and other COVID-19 countermeasures.

Rochester’s art scene never went dormant, but its vibrancy has yet to return.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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