A long road to recovery: the arts and entertainment industry can’t wait to come together again
Of all industries, the arts and entertainment arguably suffered the most during the pandemic. It became a cultural death sentence as concert halls and theaters closed across the country and sources of income dried up.
Summit County was not immune, with studios like Ready, Paint, Fire! closing its doors, the empty Dillon Amphitheater and the Breckenridge Backstage Theater and the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center darken. Major festivals, such as WAVE: Light + Water + Sound and Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, have been canceled.
âWe have been affected like every other business in the county and beyond,â former Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Matt Neufeld said in March. âI would say there hasn’t been a single arts organization that hasn’t had to completely rethink how it can fulfill its mission and serve our community in new ways.
These new methods became apparent over the summer. The main streets of Breckenridge and Frisco were filled with murals. Groups have performed outdoors during pop-up concerts and actors have presented theatrical cabarets in the neighborhoods.
BreckCreate has experienced budget deficits of several hundred thousand, according to Neufeld, but federal, state and local funding has helped keep the arts alive, even indirectly, like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center which allocates rent to individuals. , including artists.
Breckenridge Music had a rocky year canceling its festival and series at the Riverwalk Center. The nonprofit briefly turned to online performances with its Applause @ Home fundraiser that paired concerts and recipes, such as New Orleans BBQ Shrimp with Bourbon Street Boogie. Still, general manager Tamara Nuzzaci Park said the financial performance was not ideal. The biggest boon comes from donors and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
âThe PPP has been an amazing resource for us,â said Nuzzaci Park. âAs a result, we’ve been able to maintain our staffing levels and really be able to look to the futureâ¦ because we have the people here to do it.â
A conservative budget and soul-searching on how to have the biggest impact led Breck Music to move from standard music education in schools, with assemblies and workshops, to scholarships focused on children.
Musician John Truscelli has spent much of the pandemic igniting his creative side with songwriting and recording. The self-proclaimed introvert lacks playing for his friends, but he quickly adjusted to the quiet time with extra time in the studio.
In more than 20 years performing full-time at Summit, Truscelli hasn’t seen a year like this – no matter the snowpack or the wildfire season. He went from an average of four to five concerts a week to one or two sporadic.
“We weren’t as affected as some of the bigger bands and venues,” said Truscelli, who performs solo, duet with Jess Rose Moidel and in the band Satellite13. âWe didn’t lose our concert at Red Rocks, but we lost our usual restaurant and bar stuff. We definitely lost a lot of money because the complexes weren’t open and we couldn’t play there.
Truscelli also lost momentum with Satellite13, which was starting to book clubs in Las Vegas when the pandemic hit. However, he was able to perform digitally and make money through grants, tip jars, and places like the Summit Musicians Relief Fund. He said he couldn’t really complain as he was fortunate enough to be a musician for a living and to have a supportive family.
Breck Film has adapted by showing movies online and investing in a mobile screen that could be installed in parking lots and other spaces across the county. Ashley Hughes, Head of Marketing and Development at Breck Film, ranked the year as a success as the nonprofit reached more people not only in the Summit County community but across the country as well. . Movies became a conversation starter and a way for people to connect even though they couldn’t be together physically.
Hughes cut his marketing budget by 38% and had to be frugal, but Breck Film was able to launch new programs as well. The nonprofit has drawn on the social justice movement by showcasing various filmmakers, and has received grants to increase inclusiveness in the industry.
While artists and venues were hit the hardest, that didn’t mean it was easier for other artists. Jessica Johnson relies on special events such as farmers’ markets or festivals in Summit, Park and Lake counties as well as businesses such as cafes or breweries to showcase her paintings.
As the organizer of Third Thursday Art Night at Highside Brewing, she had to pivot to support herself and her peers. The art fair went digital on social media until Highside reopened for an in-person dinner. A big change happened in the fall when she opened the Frisco Art Collective with other local artists. Johnson said the cooperative gallery has been well received in light of the restrictions.
She said she was lucky that art was not her main source of income, which is common with Summit County’s high cost of living. She used the downtime to create larger paintings, do commission work, and design neck warmers.
âWe’re lucky here in Summit County,â Johnson said. âIt hasn’t been business as usual, but people come just to enjoy the outdoors and all there is to offer. It wasn’t as scary as it would have been if I was anywhere else.
A light at the end of the tunnel
Optimistic planning for in-person summer events has begun as vaccinations become widespread and the number of cases continues to improve. The warmer weather means the public can comfortably and safely gather outside to listen to music or watch a movie.
Johnson is delighted to be able to open the doors of the Frisco Art Collective, display exhibits on the patio and paint outside in the shade of Mount Royal. Although she is not sure which major festivals are, she thinks she will be able to attend farmers markets again.
Neufeld said he was cautiously optimistic that some sort of artistic activation taking advantage of the outdoors would occur, although probably not in the way residents and guests are used to.
“If we are talking about festivals on a WAVE scale or (Breckenridge International Festival of Arts), I am always very careful,” he said, adding that the future does not depend only on vaccinations in Summit. County but across the country. âHaving said that, despite all the challenges we faced last summer, I felt really good that a lot was going on. We’ve tried to be really innovative in how we can serve our community, and I think we’ve learned a lot from that experience.
Meanwhile, Breck Music is hoping for an in-person festival with contingencies in place if the public health outlook deteriorates. A full season announcement is slated for May, but Nuzzaci Park said the festival is expected to be a smaller 10-day experience from August 5 to 15, which will either be normal or slightly adjusted with different series of outdoor concerts. âAll of our decisions are based on flexibility as a priority,â said Nuzzaci Park.
Nuzzaci Park said the road to recovery will be long, but she is happy that the year has given the community a clean slate to analyze what events should move forward and how, rather than having a glut of options that cause event fatigue and dilute the audience.
Whatever the culture looks like in the months and years to come, industry leaders say they are lucky for the support of the community in difficult times. Neufeld pointed out that the restaurant industry, artists and other nonprofits come together, as with collaborations with Dia de los Muertos which included special menus and ofrendas, or altars.
âI think the relationships that are strengthened during this time will only be stronger when we have more opportunities to work together,â Neufeld said. âWe hope that things are going in the right direction. We’re still here, and we’re still committed to Breckenridge and our community through Summit. There is optimism and I certainly feel optimistic. â¦ It would have been harder to say that maybe six months ago, five months ago.
This story was previously published in Still Standing: How Summit County Weathered the Pandemic.