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Arts & Entertainment

How To Help Keep Local Theaters Afloat During Social Isolation

Some local arts organizations won't survive the toll of a pandemic. Here's what you can do to help save them.
By Trace Miller |

Imagine a Dallas without an orchestra to debut symphonies and salute world-class conductors. Imagine a Dallas without theaters to perform A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker every winter; A city without Broadway musicals or clever, local playwrights. Imagine a Dallas without museums to host traveling exhibitions, or show off rich permanent collections. It’s a bland, devastating vision.

Or, it was a vision. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters, museums, and cultural venues across the Metroplex to close and cancel all programming through at least the end of April, it’s become a reality. The question is, how long does this cultural drought continue? Nobody knows the answer.

“The idea that things are changing hourly never could have been truer,” says Charles Santos, executive director of TITAS, a nonprofit organization presenting dance companies in Dallas. “We’re sort of at a standstill because we can’t really do anything until we have a better sense of when we’re going to come out of some of this COVID fog. And so, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to find time in the 2020-2021 season [to reschedule cancelled performances], we don’t know if we’re going to have to wait till ‘21-‘22.”

To date, TITAS/Dance Unbound has cancelled its March and April performances. Its February performance, which was to feature China’s Beijing Dance Company, was hurriedly replaced with a festival featuring four local dance companies after the U.S. border closed on February 2 to Chinese nationals. Santos knows that it’s likely the May performance will also be canceled.

Zero performances doesn’t necessarily mean zero revenue. Aside from single tickets, subscriptions, and memberships, nonprofit arts organizations also earn revenue from grants, donations, reserve accounts, and endowments, as well as from special programs. Still, performances constitute a major revenue source for arts organizations–or, they used to. Now, with all future performances cancelled or postponed, previous ticket sales are liable to be refunded, and future ticket sales are basically nonexistent.

“This is a highly successful economic engine and it is just at a complete standstill,” Santos says. There’s no margin for this kind of setback: “No one has a cash reserve big enough to survive for a year, 18 months, six months.” So, how do the arts organizations plan on recovering from the cancellations, the closures, the cash lost in the COVID fog? That’s another question nobody knows the answer to.

“We are making this up as we go along right now,” Santos says. “No one has the answer of how we’re going to move forward, because none of us have experienced this before. But there will be closures of companies. There’s going to be a lot of companies that are not going to survive this.”

With erased seasons and depleted budgets, Santos suggests one thing art enthusiasts can do to keep nonprofit arts organizations like TITAS (or Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Cara Mía Theatre, Theatre Three, Undermain Theatre, and countless others) afloat: Instead of seeking a refund for tickets to a now-canceled show, keep them as a donation to the company.

“I want people to understand that it may be one ticket, but when it’s in the aggregate of a full audience of people—that’s going to make a big difference in helping keep these companies afloat,” he adds.

You can also donate, volunteer, intern, become a member, or a sponsor of the Dallas Arts District. You can donate directly to a nonprofit arts organization within the arts district (we linked to a few websites above). You can even send a message to your members of Congress asking them to distribute financial aid via the National Endowment for the Arts to help offset crippling projected losses in the nonprofit arts industry.

We need to do everything we can to help our city’s cultural players survive this bleak present moment–the future of Dallas will be so much brighter with their talents.

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