murfreesboro center for the arts little women performance
Center Stage Academy getting ready for an outdoor performance of Little Women in May/ photo from Center for the Arts Facebook

This article is part of our series “COVID-19: 1 Year Later,” exploring the ways COVID-19 has affected and changed daily life over the last year. For two weeks, we surveyed our readers on how COVID-19 has affected them. Read our survey results here. Today, we write about how the Murfreesboro Center for the Arts weathered the COVID storms.

Murfreesboro Center for the Arts (CFTA), like most of the world, thought when COVID-19 hit that they would be back in business in two weeks, no more than a month. Then it became obvious that it would be longer. They tried to make plans by shifting shows two months out, then four months out, then to the Fall, quickly realizing they had no idea how long the pandemic would last and planning was futile.

CFTA’s Initial Reaction

“It was devastating…The [first] decision…made [was] to cancel the current production at the time, The Diary of Anne Frank,” said Executive Director Patience Long, “… to comply with the Stay at Home Orders.  Our staff shifted from in office to working from home–and we had our first zoom call later that week.  When we settled on the fact that The Center would be shuttered for an uncertain amount of time, the staff worked on making arts accessible in a virtual world.”

After allowing themselves a chance to be disappointed, the staff then took a deep breath, dusted off their creative brains and made plans. They started offering what they could virtually, holding special workshops on Facebook that included singing lessons with their Artistic Director and stage manager workshops. Children’s programming was shifted to virtual, and they started working on what a virtual production would look like. And they held a director’s seminar to encourage people who have always wanted to direct a show the opportunity to attend and learn.

How They Survived

“The Center had been on a journey for the past five years and had seen incredible growth,” said Long. “As time passed and our theater was still shuttered, I grieved a little. I knew we were going to surviv, but felt we wouldn’t start back where we left off.  We would have to grow our programs again. With ticket revenue halted, we unfortunately had to make the tough decision to let the majority of our staff go. The Center went from a staff of 23 to a staff of four.”

Long and what was left of her staff found it hard to navigate financially in the world of COVID-19, but although they were basically back at the beginning, they have excellent fundraising skills.

“Our staff worked on finding new grants,” explained Long, “we learned about government programs that offered help during the pandemic, and we created some virtual fundraisers. We applied and received the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program which helped to keep the core staff paid. Our funders were even more generous with their giving. The community really stepped up to help us. The level of appreciation and gratitude we have for every person, business, and community organization that came to our aid, is boundless.”

Reopening Plans

Now that The Center can open back up, they are doing it with thoughtfulness and determination. Their plan in February of 2020 looks completely different from their plans today.

“We stopped our 2020 season after three shows, and had an additional 10 shows planned,” said Long. “We decided we were only going to postpone the remaining shows and resume our season once we were able to get back to some sort of normalcy. We are working now with the royalty companies to secure the rights again for our shows and will hopefully make an announcement soon. But we are moving forward with a fall opening date!”

The Center started back with in-person classes for children in October, and have been able to produce two outdoor adult shows and three outdoor youth shows for the public.

“We are resuming our in-person summer camps,” added Long, “with some modifications. We are limiting the number of children able to attend camp, and have implemented some other policies to make sure the kids have a safe, fun summer experience.”

They are also planning a production in August that isn’t a part of their regular season, but it will be their first indoor production since March 2020. Art will be back in the gallery at the same time. The Center’s season will resume in October.

“We are currently working now on our protocols for opening back up now,” said Long.  “We’ve been in meetings and seminars with other arts organizations so we can learn from one another.”

The Center installed a new Air Filtration system that will help with eradicating germs including COVID-19 from the air.  As far as masks — no masks — social distancing? They are taking that one day at a time.

Thanks for Keeping Arts Alive

“If you see anyone who works in the arts field,” added Long, “know they’ve been working really hard to keep the arts alive.  I’m proud of our staff, our volunteers, our children, our parents, our board, and our community for not giving up and moving forward.  That, in itself, is a huge accomplishment!”


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