Rebuilding America: When entertainment returns, it will look different

Patricia Middleton
Carriage Factory Art Gallery,  hit hard by COVID-19 closure, reopened with new exhibits under Phase 1.5 of Gov. Laura Kelly's plan to reopen Kansas.

Spring is traditionally a season filled with arts, events and entertainment in Newton, but the coronavirus pandemic and regulations associated with slowing its spread canceled events and left organizations scrambling for new ways to host and promote everything from concerts to classes.

“Arts and entertainment, for six to seven weeks, shut down,” said Newton Convention & Visitors Bureau coordinator Melody Spurney.

Of the nearly 30 events planned for the spring season, only five ended up taking place, according to Spurney, who noted the pandemic hit right as Newton Area Arts and Culture’s annual Spring Into the Arts Festival was scheduled to happen.

The abrupt cancellations and ensuing uncertainty around the viability of postponing events led area arts organizations to turn to online tools, such as email, social media posts, and streaming video to keep in touch with their patrons.

“It is an important part of the community,” Spurney said. “We have a lot of artists.”

Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts gave online lessons to its dance and music students. They also compiled a virtual concert of students performing at home.

“Like schools, they’re just trying to stay connected,” Spurney said.

Not every arts organization or entertainment venue had the technological resources or staff numbers needed to tackle the challenge of connecting virtually.

“Those smaller, all-volunteer ones said ‘we’ll see you next year,’ ” Spurney said.

As Kansas slowly reopens, groups are scrambling to play catch-up in order to recoup not only lost time but also lost finances.

“You have arts organizations that rely on these events for funding to support themselves through the year,” Spurney said.

The Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra’s spring season of concerts were canceled, along with its Summer Chamber Music concert and Grace Notes fundraiser.

“It’s difficult to safely space people in an auditorium like that and break even,” Spurney said.

Carriage Factory Art Gallery was also hit hard by the closure.

“They had two new exhibits hung and ready to go that no one got to see until (May 12),” Spurney said.

Mary Lee-McDonald, director of Carriage Factory Art Gallery, said the gallery was able to extend the exhibit dates, but the short-term impact of being closed for several months may foster long-term challenges.

“My biggest fear isn’t today, it’s our openings in July,” Lee-McDonald said. “How are we going to host and have those in a way that makes people feel safe?”

The gallery is considering changing its classes from on-site events to a new format in which participants would pick up a packet of materials and then watch a video on how to create their artwork.

“It really is about being creative and making changes to move things forward,” Lee-McDonald said.

Catherine Graves, director of the Harvey County Historical Museum, was disappointed when she was forced to cancel several presentations.

“They were something I was really looking forward to and interested in,” Graves said.

While the museum was closed to visitors coming to view the exhibits or do research about Harvey County, the staff has used the time to scan historical documents and take pictures for social media.

“Social media was really helpful in keeping us out there,” Graves said. “We’d been using it anyway … but the pandemic has pushed us to be more socially active.”

Still, Graves said she looks forward to being able to have meetings around a meal rather than around a computer screen. There are also plans in the works for a celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

“We’ll readjust to the situation,” Graves said. “Even if it’s not on site here at the museum, we’ll have (events) somewhere else.”

It is expected that many events will experience a drop in attendance, and it may be a challenge for some smaller venues to host their usual numbers.

“People who will come back and attend these kind of events want to think that the people organizing them are doing things to keep them safe,” Spurney said.

More volunteers and staff wearing masks and gloves, more frequent cleaning of spaces and sanitizing stations are ways in which arts and entertainment organizers may work to assure attendees of their dedication to minimizing any health risk.

Sand Creek Summer Daze is still slated for Aug. 15. Spurney said the festival may recruit volunteers to regularly sanitize the equipment in Athletic Park, along with having masks available for sale.

“We’re talking about having sanitizing stations throughout the park,” Spurney added.

“Right now, there’s so much we’d like to do, but we don’t know what the right thing is. Nobody does,” Lee-McDonald said. “We’re just going to have to forge forward and make the arts available the best way that we can.”

For now, a full calendar of fall and holiday events is still on the books, giving residents of Harvey County and its visitors hope for being able to gather again to enjoy entertainment and appreciate the arts.

“We will hear music again, it just might take a little while,” Spurney said.


• Maintaining recommended physical distancing

• Volunteers and staff wearing gloves and masks

• Sanitizing stations for attendees

• Frequent sanitizing of spaces

• Events being held virtually