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March 13, 2020

Hartford arts organizations in “existential trouble” amid COVID-19 restrictions

Photo | Hartford Stage Hartford Stage is one of many theaters in Connecticut’s vibrant arts-and-culture industry.

Amid Gov. Ned Lamont’s ban on gatherings of 250 people or more, and health officials’ advice to avoid crowds due to the coronavirus outbreak, arts organizations in Hartford are scrambling to figure out how long they can survive under current circumstances.

“We’re in existential trouble,” said Cynthia Rider, managing director of the nonprofit Hartford Stage, which seats up to 489 people in its theater on 50 Church St.

Hartford Stage already canceled its current run of “Jane Eyre,” which actors were scheduled to perform through Saturday, and their next play, “The King’s Speech,” which was supposed to run March 19 to April 19, Rider said. 

So far, audience members have been generous by foregoing refunds for purchased tickets, and instead accepting credit to use on tickets to future shows -- or just writing the cost off as a donation, Rider said. 

Additionally, all performances and events scheduled at The Bushnell through April 30, have been postponed, and the Wadsworth Atheneum canceled group tours and most public programs through March 25, according to Wadsworth Director of Marketing Kim Hugo.

The Atheneum museum is currently operating on its normal schedule, Hugo said by email, but administrators are closely following and heeding recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local government agencies, said Hugo, who said closing the museum would present a financial burden. 

“The financial impact were the museum to close has many dimensions: lost productivity of the workforce,... supply chain complications are a reality for our institution as a nationally and globally engaged partner,” Hugo said.

Arts organizations across the state have been in close communications in recent days to compare notes, Rider said. For example, there was a conference call with several arts and culture organizations earlier this week, and heavy communication with TheaterWorks Hartford, which recently underwent a $4 million renovation.

Rider is also currently working with staff at Hartford Stage to project the financial implications of current health concerns and responses to them lasting until the end of April, May, June and beyond. The organization’s survival largely depends on the generosity of donors, Rider said.

“The financial strain for us and other organizations is that we always live very lean. This is going to cause a big financial stretch,” said Rider, who noted Hartford Stage might also have to cancel a summer course it puts on, and likely cannot survive long under current circumstances.

“We don’t have a very long window,” Rider said. “A lot… depends on how generous a response we see [from donors].”

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