A long road to recovery: Arts and entertainment industry looks forward to gathering again
Of all the industries, arts and entertainment arguably has suffered the most during the pandemic. It became a cultural death sentence as concert venues and theaters closed across the country and sources of income dried up.
Summit County was not immune, with studios like Ready, Paint, Fire! closing its doors, the Dillon Amphitheater sitting empty and Breckenridge Backstage Theater and Silverthorne Performing Arts Center going dark. Large festivals, such as WAVE: Light + Water + Sound and Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, were canceled.
“We’ve been impacted just like every other business in the county and beyond,” former Breckenridge Creative Arts CEO Matt Neufeld said in March. “I would say there has not been a single arts organization that didn’t have to completely rethink how they can fulfill their mission and serve our community in new ways.”
Those new ways became apparent over the summer. Breckenridge and Frisco Main streets were filled with murals. Groups performed outdoors at pop-up concerts, and actors put on theatrical cabarets in neighborhoods.
BreckCreate has seen budget shortfalls in the hundreds of thousands, according to Neufeld, but federal, state and local government funding have helped keep the arts alive, even in indirect ways like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center providing rent relief to individuals, including artists.
Breckenridge Music had its year shaken when it canceled its festival and series at the Riverwalk Center. The nonprofit briefly pivoted to online performances with its Applause@Home fundraisers that paired concerts and recipes, such as New Orleans barbecue shrimp with Bourbon Street Boogie. Yet Executive Director Tamara Nuzzaci Park said the financial return hasn’t been ideal. The largest boon has been from donors and the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“The PPP was an extraordinary resource for us,” Nuzzaci Park said. “As a result, we were able to sustain our staffing levels and really be able to think about the future … because we have the people here to do it.”
A conservative budget and some soul-searching on how to have the biggest impact led Breck Music to shift from standard musical education in schools, with assemblies and workshops, to scholarships focused on children.
Musician John Truscelli has spent much of the pandemic kindling his creative side with songwriting and recording. The self-proclaimed introvert misses playing for his friends, but he quickly adjusted to the quiet period with extra studio time.
In more than 20 years of performing full time in Summit, Truscelli hasn’t seen a year like this — no matter the snowpack or wildfire season. He went from an average of four to five gigs per week to a sporadic one or two.
“We weren’t as affected as some of the bigger bands and venues,” said Truscelli, who performs solo, as a duo with Jess Rose Moidel and in the band Satellite13. “We didn’t lose our Red Rocks gig, but we did lose our normal restaurant and bar stuff. We definitely lost a lot of money through the resorts not being open and us not being able to play there.”
Truscelli also lost his performing momentum with Satellite13, which was starting to book clubs in Las Vegas when the pandemic hit. However, he has been able to perform digitally and make money from grants, tip jars and places like the Summit Musicians Relief Fund. He said he can’t really complain since he’s fortunate enough to be a musician for a living and have a supportive family.
Breck Film adapted by streaming movies online and investing in a mobile drive-in screen that could be set up in parking lots and other spaces around the county. Ashley Hughes, Breck Film’s marketing and development manager, classified the year as a success because the nonprofit reached more people not only in the Summit County community but also all over the country. The films became a conversation starter and a way for people to connect even if they couldn’t be together physically.
Hughes cut her marketing budget by 38% and had to be frugal, yet Breck Film was able to launch new programs, as well. The nonprofit tapped into the social justice movement by highlighting diverse filmmakers, and it has received grants to increase inclusivity in the industry.
Though performers and venues were hit the hardest, that doesn’t mean it was any easier for other artists. Jessica Johnson relies on special events such as farmers markets or festivals in Summit, Park and Lake counties along with businesses like coffee shops or breweries to showcase her paintings.
As the organizer of Third Thursday Art Night at Highside Brewing, she had to pivot to support herself and her peers. The art fair went to a digital format on social media until Highside opened again for in-person dining. A big change was in the fall when she opened the Frisco Art Collective with other local artists. Johnson said the co-op gallery has been well-received in light of the restrictions.
She said she’s lucky that art isn’t her primary source of income, which is common with Summit County’s high cost of living. She has used the downtime to create larger paintings, do commission work and design neck gaiters.
“We’re lucky here in Summit County,” Johnson said. “It hasn’t exactly been business as usual, but people have been coming just to enjoy the outdoors and everything there is to offer. It wasn’t as scary as it would have been if I were somewhere else.”
A light at the end of the tunnel
Optimistic planning for in-person summer events has begun as vaccinations become more widespread and case numbers continue to improve. The warmer weather means the public can comfortably gather outside in a safe manner to listen to music or watch a movie.
Johnson is excited to be able to have the Frisco Art Collective’s doors open, spread out displays on the patio and paint outside in the shadow of Mount Royal. Though she’s unsure about larger festivals, she thinks she’ll be able to attend farmers markets again.
Neufeld said he is cautiously optimistic that some sort of artistic activation that takes advantage of the outdoors will happen, though likely not in the way residents and guests are used to.
“If we’re talking festivals on the scale of a WAVE or (Breckenridge International Festival of Arts), I’m still very cautious,” he said, adding that the future depends not just on vaccinations in Summit County but throughout the country. “That said, for all the challenges we had last summer, I felt really good that there was a lot happening. We tried to be really innovative on how we can serve our community, and I think we learned a lot from that experience.”
Meanwhile, Breck Music is hopeful for an in-person festival with contingencies in place if the public health outlook worsens. A full season announcement is set to come in May, but Nuzzaci Park said the festival is scheduled to be a smaller, 10-day experience from Aug. 5-15 that will either be normal or slightly adjusted with different series of outdoor concerts. “All of our decisions are based in flexibility as a priority,” Nuzzaci Park said.
Nuzzaci Park said it will be a long road to recovery, but she is glad the year has given the community a clean slate to analyze which events should move forward and how, rather than have a glut of options that cause event fatigue and diluted audiences.
No matter how the culture looks in the months and years ahead, industry leaders say they are fortunate for the community’s support in difficult times. Neufeld pointed to the restaurant industry, artists and other nonprofits coming together, like for Dia de los Muertos collaborations that included special menus and ofrendas, or altars.
“I think the relationships that are reinforced through this time will only be stronger when there’s more opportunities for us to work together,” Neufeld said. “There’s hope that things are moving in the right direction. We’re still here, and we’re still committed to Breckenridge and our community across Summit. There is optimism, and I certainly feel optimistic. … It would have been harder to say that maybe six months ago, five months ago.”
This story previously published in Still Standing: How Summit County Weathered the Pandemic.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.
Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.