By Rae Geoffrey, Managing Director of the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, dedicated to helping Asheville thrive through the arts. This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.
When the quarantine began, I made a pinecone bird feeder to hang from the tree branches visible from my window. After spending my career in the dark corners of a theatre, a window to the world — even from a makeshift office in the corner of my bedroom — provides calm perspective during a time of massive uncertainty.
Today, a cranky squirrel skittered sideways up the thin branch, hanging Cirque du Soleil-style by its tiny feet, stretching across space to steal the pinecone. He (she?) pulled once, then twice. Meeting resistance, he threw a squirrel tantrum to rival any nap-deprived toddler in the checkout line. If I could speak squirrel, it might have sounded like the human equivalent of smashing your thumb while constructing furniture from IKEA.
Leave it to a rodent to perfectly capture how it feels to exist amid this pandemic.
As the director of the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, I’ve had a few tantrums of my own after closing a beloved community venue and canceling or rescheduling 70 events in two theatres, our studio and in the schools.
Like the squirrel, I’m frustrated at things beyond my control. The term “essential” now directs our daily lives. As an arts professional, my job is to remind our community that the arts are essential. Yet in survival mode — concerned about bills, health, family and friends — it can be difficult to view the arts in those terms.
I am witnessing gorgeous sunsets, enjoying cheesecake my daughter made from scratch and wearing a ring handmade by my son. I’m taking long walks with my husband, learning more about the neighborhood we’ve never had time to explore. Through virtual meetings, I’m meeting my colleagues’ children, spouses and pets. I’m filling the gap left by a dark theatre with online concerts, classes and performances.
COVID-19’s impact on the arts industry is massive. Still, as venues go dark, as artists lose months of income, the arts community is stepping up. They’re holding concerts in their living rooms, creating virtual choirs and conducting online lessons. They’re writing songs, performing sonnets, streaming live shows and feeding our battered souls. This act of delivering hope and joy, of connecting, of comforting, is essential. And in times of distress, we need it more than ever.
This will end. When it does, we will want to return to a world that still holds art and beauty. We will go back to our windowless offices, our classrooms, our cars and our pre-pandemic lives. We will want to once again sit in theatres and gasp as the curtain rises, to dance for joy in concert halls and sing with abandon in our spiritual homes.
So, the squirrel and I, we’re holding strong for now. We’re stubbornly refusing to give up. The reward is there, hanging by a thread, to seize at the end of this journey.