A breath of fresh air – the Louisa Arts Center re-opens

By Carol Barfield

After being closed since the middle of March, the Louisa Arts Center is up and running again.  Karen Welch, executive director, has diligently followed the best Center for Disease Control guidelines to provide a safe experience for a soft reopening.

On Friday, July 10th, Music and Wine at Sunset returned to delight people eager to enjoy life and some outdoor entertainment.  On the terrace and surrounding lawn areas, all tables and chairs were placed six feet apart.  Patrons were asked to bring their own food or choose to support local businesses with a take-out order to enjoy while listening to the musicians.

The Cold North, a father/daughter duo from Centreville, entertained over 50 people who enjoyed listening to great music, even joining in on several songs. These events will continue on the second and fourth Fridays of each month from 6-8 p.m.

With the sponsorship of Edge Concrete Company and Harris Electric Company, all four music and wine events have been funded to enable the center to offer these events for free. David Davol is slated to perform July 24, Dan Trull on August 14, and Rick Hollowell on August 28.

The Purcell Gallery has also re-opened, featuring “Common Threads,” an exhibition showcasing local quilters. The Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 12- 2 p.m. Three beautiful quilts from the exhibit are available to be raffled off. Tickets are $1 each, and proceeds will help support the Gallery.

Welch is sincere in her desire to protect the staff, volunteers and patrons. “It hasn’t been easy.  I started with a 33-page COVID-19 safety report from the CDC as a guide and got it down to 17 pages to then produce a one-page bullet list for patrons. We had a routine before our events, and now we are cleaning more than is required at high-traffic and touch points. Sanitizing bottles are spread throughout the facility. Limited numbers of people are allowed in at one time, and there are six-foot stickers to help people social distance, as well as roped off ‘wait here’ signs for the restrooms to conform to best practices.”

The summer camps are also starting up again and are structured to limit contact and follow CDC guidelines. Although children under the age of 10 are not required to wear masks, they are encouraged to do so. Frequent hand washing and limited contact is also encouraged.

In Camp Bravo, children use individual instruments and are seated apart.  In Sight and Sound class, children learn tech support, lighting and sound.  Although no members of the public are allowed to attend the final performance, a digital copy will be available for distribution.

Bigger challenges are ahead for the Arts Center and staff. Artists are booked for September, and the staff are trying to come up with creative solutions to the questions: How flexible can the artists and the Center be––can we hold the concerts outdoors?  Although the governor says that in Phase III theaters can be open if masks are worn, limiting capacity and attempting to seat people six feet apart will be a challenge.  Also, if people need to use the restroom, they can’t pass others to leave. Despite these issues, Welch said, “I am happy to say that all artists that could not perform from last season have been rescheduled into the 2020-2021 schedule, which gives us a very packed season!”

Artists are given deposits, but contracts have been revised to include pandemic language: “If we are unable or it is unsafe to hold the event, we will have to cancel.”

Moving forward, Welch wants to concentrate on innovative ways to entertain the public…small art classes and wine tasting events are two ideas in the works. “The longer we wait, the stronger and safer we will be, so my mantra is­­­––‘longer is stronger.’ We don’t want to re-open only to shut down again. We are all fed up personally and professionally.  Although the initial fear may have lessened and we desperately want to get back to normal, the virus hasn’t gone away. We are all working with restrictions and we really miss our patrons!”

Like many who have been making their way through the new COVID-19 landscape, she has had personal challenges.  Both her family in the United Kingdom and her husband’s family in Australia are doing well––they wore masks early and self-isolated, going out only when absolutely necessary, but no one knows when they will be able to be together again since flying is not yet an option.

The Arts Center closed in mid-March with no revenue coming in—a situation familiar to businesses around the region and state.  Welch has been working with a team and director to source grants, funds and loans.  She has taken advantage of the Cares Act’s Payroll Protection Program to keep staff at the Art Center employed, including the apprentice from Louisa High who is working to fund her college education. They also are receiving support from the Virginia Commission of the Arts and through private and individual donations.

Just as people have been trying to support their favorite restaurants and local businesses in creative ways, the Arts Center would appreciate help with their new campaign, “Birdies for Charity.”  Through this PGA tours initiative, funds are enhanced creatively, with Townebank and Dominion Energy as supporting non-profits. When a patron sponsors an event or donates to the Arts Center, they should make checks out to “PGA TOUR Charities, Inc.” with ‘Louisa Arts Center’ in the memo line and send the donation to the Arts Center–– P.O. Box 2119, Louisa, Va., 23093. By doing so, an additional 10 percent will be added to the gift making their donation go further.  Gifts large and small from those who can contribute will help keep the arts alive locally and will enable the Arts Center to bridge the gap––and that is something we all need now more than ever!




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