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How has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted the arts in Alaska?

The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
(Photo courtesy of the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts)

COVID-19 undoubtedly had a significant impact on individuals and industries worldwide. The performing arts industry, dependent upon the ability of artists and audiences alike gathering in large crowds, was among the most affected. The Broadway shut down began on March 12th, 2020 and has been extended several times with hopes to reopen the Great White Way in May of 2021. The Anchorage Concert Association postponed shows set to perform in Spring of 2020 and subsequently cancelled their Fall 2020 programming. I had the opportunity to speak to several members of Alaska's performing arts community regarding the impact of COVID-19 and what the industry in Alaska will look like moving forward.

Jason Hodges is the Executive Director of the Anchorage Concert Association (ACA), Alaska's most well-known multidisciplinary presenting organization. Originally from Fairbanks, Hodges moved to Anchorage 12 years ago to begin a position with the ACA where his responsibilities include outreach efforts, programming, and fundraising. Hodges states that the impact of COVID-19 on the performing arts industry in Alaska has been "profound." He mentions that not only are performers and organizations such as the ACA largely affected by the inability to gather, but also theaters such as the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and the Cyrano's Theatre.

Jason Hodges
Executive Director of the Anchorage Concert Association
(Photo courtesy of Jason Hodges)

"We're all hunkered down, sitting, and waiting quiet for when we can go back to whatever 'normal' is going to look like on the other side of all of this."
Hodges also discussed the timeline regarding live stage performance returning to Alaska. He mentions a recent meeting between Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals in which it was suggested that performing arts could return as early as fall of 2021. Hodges states that this will be dependent upon a variety of factors such as community spread of the virus, current case counts, and vaccination rates of the community. He predicts, and hopes for, a full schedule of events in 2022, with potential outdoor performance throughout this coming summer. Hodges reports that the Atwood Concert Hall, the primary location for ACA performances, has a capacity of approximately 2,000 people. Unfortunately, due to expenses, it would be challenging to begin performances at anything less than a full capacity hall, making social distancing efforts difficult. He states that this is a trend seen throughout theaters and performing companies nationwide.

When asked about what every day Alaskans can do to ensure a safe and robust return of the arts to Alaska, Hodges refers to the advice of Dr. Fauci in saying, "Wear a mask, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, stay socially distant, all of these little things that we have been asked to do. This is not the time to let up, it is the time to be most diligent." He states that many arts organizations will have to think about restarting and rebuilding due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He states that the arts are a large part in making Downtown Anchorage come alive throughout the year and it will continue to play a large part in supporting restaurants and other local businesses.

"Pay attention to your favorite arts organizations, see what you can do to help, it will be important. You don't have to look much further than the Inauguration the other day. What was a core piece of that Inauguration? It was music, it was poetry, it was the flags. Art is an important and critical part of our lives and if we're going to have a thriving, healthy, vibrant community that comes out of COVID, it's going to be because of the vibrant art community. So often, the arts can be over looked because they're always there, but when it is gone, you will notice it."

Aspen Bakner
(Photo courtesy of Aspen Bakner)

Aspen Bakner is a 19-year-old esthetician going through the audition process for college musical theatre programs. She states that she started doing theatre at a young age and participated in every musical produced at her high school while also being very active in the music program. She began taking vocal lessons and competing in vocal competitions during her senior year of high school. She plans to attend Pace University for music or musical theatre in the fall. She is interested in performing professionally and has considered starting a skincare line targeted to theatrical performers specifically because of the amount of stress induced skin issues and makeup caused acne.

Aspen states that her day to day life has not changed much due to COVID-19, however she misses theatre and performing.

"I do miss theatre dearly, I have tried online productions, but nothing will match the energy of a stressful 3-hour rehearsal with your friends while you're creating art on a stage."

Aspen reports that surprisingly, COVID-19 had somewhat of a positive effect on her plans for the future. She states that it pushed her to apply to programs sooner rather than waiting, due to many programs not requiring admissions exams for this cycle.

"What I've learned in this pandemic is that nothing is for certain and nothing is promised, especially the idea of "tomorrow". The pandemic had taught me that I need to follow my dreams before it's too late. Life really is too short, I used to think that was just a cheesy line that bad writers would throw into films or shows when the plot begins to spin out but after going through something like this, I realize how accurate that statement is. I plan on taking that lesson with me from this pandemic, life is too short to not chase your dreams now."

She also comments on how COVID-19 has impacted the arts nationally. She states that around the country cannot obtain the social distance mandates, forcing them to remain closed. This affects community theatre and even professional theaters as large as Broadway.

"Theatre is the best escape for some, being able to focus on the dramatic, comedic, and intricate lives of these fictional characters takes our imaginations to far off places. Many people in this art actually use theatre as a form of escapism for their depression because of how immersive it can be, leaving many people who use theatre to cope struggling mentally. In professional theatre, many actors are currently out of work and worried about the uncertainty of their careers and livelihoods, it's a scary time for many actors."

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