Curtain Up

Arts groups eager to hear applause

By Scot Crocker
June 2020

Cultural arts groups in Sacramento and the venues that host them often live on the financial edge. They know how to persevere. In recent years, many have thrived.

Now they are shuttered by contagion. Ticket sales are zero. Philanthropy has slowed. The only good news involves the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District. They didn’t lose any business because they were already dark.

“Being closed for renovations means we didn’t have conventions or events to cancel,” says Matt Voreyer, general manager of the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District. “We actually are more fortunate than some because our budget was based on being closed until end of 2020.”

While it’s unknown whether theaters and halls will open later this year, two conventions that planned to use the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center won’t be headed Downtown.

“The Almond Board and the Wine & Grape Symposium have a year to organize exhibitors and plan their events. They felt it made sense just to stay with Cal Expo one more year,” Voreyer says.

When the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District reopen, along with other venues such as Memorial Auditorium, audiences will find new surroundings and protocols.

“We will adhere to the city and county lockdown guidelines, and if we can open, we may have to practice safe distancing,” Voreyer says.

Construction at the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts District has not slowed during the coronavirus crisis. With an early spring, lack of rain and minimal traffic, construction has moved more quickly than expected.

The city’s Convention & Cultural Services department was created to deliver cultural, artistic and leisure opportunities that enrich the quality of life and contribute to a vibrant metropolitan region.

Sacramento Convention & Cultural Services, under the direction of Jody Ulich, provides a variety of other services, including partnerships with nonprofits such as the Center for Sacramento History, Crocker Art Museum, Old Sacramento, Powerhouse Science Center and Sacramento Zoo.

“We are working very closely with our nonprofit partners,” Ulich says. “We are talking every week, helping identify resources such as the Payroll Protection Program stimulus program and other funding sources.”

Some community groups devoted to arts education have moved programs online. Performing arts groups are doing virtual performances. “We will survive and thrive. Arts and cultural groups bring a lot of passion to their work to ensure quality experiences to the community,” Ulich says.

“I’m an internal optimist,” she adds. “While I can’t look into a crystal ball, we are coming together as a strong force and we are excited about opening up our new venues for conventions, performances and events.”

Sacramento is home to many small and large arts groups. The Sacramento Theatre Company, which planned to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, has been hit hard. Anniversary fundraising events have been canceled or postponed.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen and we are working daily on a variety of contingency plans,” says Carol Wieckowski, STC board chair. “We are not giving up. We’ve been around for 75 years and we intend to be around for another 75 years.”

STC education programs have continued, but the organization has made deep staffing cuts. The group has not canceled the whole season yet, but Wieckowski remains cautious.

“We hope to be back on stage for our annual Christmas Carol performances,” she says. “At that point, we don’t know exactly what normal will look like and we might have to have safe distancing for seating. I can tell you the STC family is hurting, but those involved in theater have a passion for their art and will just keep moving forward.”

Some performances might take months to coordinate. Others, such as cabaret shows, can be organized in two weeks.

“We understand that giving and donations may be directed towards health-related causes, but there are still many who donate or provide grants to the arts,” Wieckowski says. “We are counting every penny, analyzing the shows that would be popular for Sacramento audiences and how to organize ourselves for the future.”

Scot Crocker can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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