Moving forward while marching in place: Napa Valley artists ponder the future

Moving forward while marching in place: Napa Valley artists ponder the future

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There’s nothing quite like floods, fires, earthquakes and now a pandemic to bring the fragility of many local arts nonprofits’ programs, funding and staffing front and center.

The word “resilience” keeps cropping up in many an online conversation these days. Its definitions – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness, elasticity and the ability to spring back into shape – are more relevant than ever as artists and arts leaders try to predict their futures in unpredictable times.

Despite the directives of social distancing and sheltering in place, there’s an upbeat, positive attitude from many who earn their living ensuring cultural opportunities for the Napa Valley community. It’s not an “if life gives you lemons make lemonade” scenario just yet, as income-generating programs are cancelled or in limbo and financial losses continue to mount daily. It’s more of a conundrum: how to move forward while marching in place.

Here are a few stories from the front lines.

Luckily, Music in the Vineyards’ rainy day fund will support the nonprofit’s three staff members working from home during the next few months. “We have been really busy rescheduling, cancelling and postponing activities, which is sometimes more work than setting them up,” said Evie Ayers, executive director. “As regards to the 2020 Music in the Vineyards summer festival, we are waiting to see how things play out and if the board will discuss postponement or presenting a much smaller event this year.”

“If we cannot present this year’s August festival, all 40 musicians who are scheduled to perform will lose their income plus our stage management team from Napa will not be paid. We need to be able to hold our major fundraiser later in in the year to raise the funds to keep us moving forward in 2021.”

Napa Valley Regional Dance Company’s executive director Wanda Martin McGill is also working from home, setting up virtual ballet classes and writing curriculum to send to dance families in order to keep students engaged. “Parents understand,” McGill said, “and we are hopeful our dancers will return when permitted.”

Visual artist, professional percussionist/teacher John Hannaford and his three-member Cosmos Percussion Ensemble have had performance cancellations and postponements. “As I shelter in place, I am spending a lot of time organizing in my studio, dialing in my instruments, playing and writing new material,” said Hannaford.

“A challenge is in our upcoming bookings because everything with everyone is on hold. I am missing my family, bandmates and friends.”

The always upbeat and energetic Jennifer King, professor of Theater Arts at Napa Valley College juggles three artistic endeavors: overseeing the College’s Performing Arts Center, work as a freelance actor/director and teaching classes in the Performing Arts Department.

“With regards to NVC, everyone is expanding their creativity and stretching our imaginations as all of us who teach face-to-face are now teaching online,” King said. “There is intense collaboration among colleagues and sharing of intellectual resources as we all work together to serve our students, to serve our community. I am totally inspired by the generosity of my colleagues.”

“As a freelance artist, I enjoy solitude. It can be very restorative. I am trying to look at it that way. I am fortunate. I live in Napa. It is quiet. I have community. Personally, this is a time for me to go inward, and to read, to hope, to dream and to embrace this thing called uncertainty.”

Both Olivia Cowell and Aimee Guillot, co-directors of Cafeteria Kids Theater (CKT), have young children at home, plus jobs as teachers and administrators for their nonprofit. As Guillot said, “CKT was in the midst of multiple in-school and after-school classes when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. We have been strategizing and communicating with our staff and interns about how we visualize conducting our many different classes moving forward. We are working on how to teach from home.”

Cowell and Guillot are joining parents around the world who, by default, have been catapulted into home schooling adding to the already-present stress of balancing work-home life. “My sorely neglected hall closet will have to wait,” said Cowell, “as I am filling most of my day schooling my two daughters, gardening, exercising. The short evenings are reserved for watching BBC sitcoms in an effort to unwind and let the individual dramas of our day fade away.”

“It is so reminiscent of past times when we just hit our stride, only to be sidelined by some disaster, and then arts organizations always seem to have to wait in line while disaster relief charities become the focus,” said Laura Rafaty, executive firector of the Napa Valley Museum Yountville.

“I am more fearful than I have ever been for the impact on our nonprofit museum, the willingness of our donors and members to continue support, and the ability of our trustees and staff to ride this out – and stay healthy.”

Rafaty’s other hat is that of producer/director of NapaShakes where a triumvirate of plays by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater was in the queue for a Napa return. “After many dramatic stops and starts and regime changes suitable for one of the Bard’s plays,” Rafaty said, “we were booked in the venue, visa applications ready to file, grant applications in, all actors, crew and set pieces ready to come over from London – and the Globe was shuttered and the tour put on hold. All of this in the same 48-hour period as the museum closure.”

Valley Players’ June Alane Reif described the theater company’s pro-active financial strategy—conducive, ironically, to our current environment: “At the beginning of its inception,” Reif said, “Valley Players decided to fit our expenses to our cash-at-hand, rather than budgeting a show first and then hoping for income. That allows us great flexibility when faced with unforeseeable obstacles.”

“At first, we tried to see if we could live-stream our upcoming performance,” Reif said. “But the difficulty of gathering the artists together proved unrealistic. So we have had to join other theaters and simply cancel or postpone performances until October at the earliest.”

“It will hurt a lot of us, to be sure. But my hope is that we can come together once the worst of this has past. Donations will be needed, volunteers will be needed. But Napa seems to find a way to make sure our cultural life resurges after every challenge.”

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