Reflections on a Pandemic Year

As we’ve opened the 2021 Benefit Art Auction and sent the summer catalog layout to the printer, we can’t help but remember how these were the last “normal” things we did before everything changed.

Everything ground to a complete halt for us the day before the opening of our annual Benefit Art Auction Exhibition on March 12, 2020. The building went dark right as our newly printed summer course and event catalog was hitting mailboxes. 

We completely redesigned our website in a matter of about two weeks to become a creative clearinghouse for free online activities while everyone sheltered at home. Our preschool team began recording storytimes and songs to share, and we collected links to interactive resources for everything from dance to doodling.

As soon as it became clear the shutdown was going to be long-term, our entire staff sprang into action to reconfigure summer classes and events into virtual and at-home programs. We followed Lawrence Douglas County Health Department protocols and USD 497 school guidelines to navigate classes and events as we added limited in-person options with strict safety guidelines in place beginning in June of 2020.

During these twelve long months, faculty have learned how to conduct classes, rehearsals and even performances via Zoom, we’ve added equipment to allow live-streaming of events from our main stage, and we’ve moved some programs outdoors when the weather allows. Ric Averill, our Artistic Director of Performing Arts Emeritus even adapted his truck to become a traveling stage so he could take the show on the road! We’ve created 360° virtual exhibition viewing online, and have conducted live art talks via YouTube and Facebook that have been well-received and well-attended.

A dancer poses holding a flower in front of a house.

We’ve partnered with organizations in our community in unprecedented ways, from becoming part of the Douglas County Unified Command Well-Being Branch to welcoming the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence into our studios for winter/spring.

Our entire staff has proceeded with utmost caution in everything we’ve undertaken throughout this past year, and our leadership has been extremely attentive and supportive of staff. 

Now that there is light at the end of the tunnel, we’re beginning to think about things we’ve learned on this journey that we might want to keep. Online classes, Story Slams and art talks are examples of things we’ll continue to explore post-pandemic. We’ve received so much positive feedback, so even as we return to in-person and large group activities we’ll keep using the technologies and processes we’ve learned to provide accessibility for people who find it difficult to travel to the Arts Center, long-distance audiences that we’d never tapped before, and also locals who just don’t have the time to do more than tune in on their computer while they’re attending to some other task!

We also know now more than before that we will never stop making art with and for people everywhere — creative people always find a way.

Thanks to all for making this unforgettable year so successful in so many ways.