Fall is usually the most exciting time for the arts in St. Joseph.
Robiodoux Resident Theatre should be gearing up for its big musical. The St. Joseph Performing Arts Association should be bringing in international performers. The tap of the director’s baton for the Saint Joseph Symphony should be echoing throughout the Missouri Theater.
The reality is that none of these things likely will be happening for the foreseeable future. RRT is booking weekend runs of shows at reduced capacity. PAA will be hosting its first virtual show, “Broadway & Beyond” with stars of Broadway, on Sept. 20. The Symphony held its first virtual show a few weeks ago.
These are worthy efforts for each organization to pivot during a global pandemic, while trying to keep its audience safe. But it’s likely that no move can make up for its tried-and-true method of bringing in hundreds of people to a giant, elegant venue like the Missouri Theater.
With a lack of ticket sales, along with tightening budgets for its patrons for post-pandemic shows, the local arts scene is facing what every group of performers, crew workers and artists, from Broadway to Buchanan County, are having to stare down — If they aren’t helped out through government funding, the future of their professions is bleak.
According to a study by the Brookings Institution, the pandemic has dismantled the arts across the nation, getting rid of half of the jobs for performing artists and musicians, and a third of them for broader arts categories like theater, design, entertainment and media.
As two professors that were a part of the Brookings Institutions’ study said, many of the 100,000 community theaters, venues and arts organizations have closed temporarily or permanently. Those that have survived face a tough road ahead.
“These are the places where children hear our common stories, mount stages themselves, sing in choruses, learn to play musical instruments and to draw and paint. And their loss will fall heaviest on our least advantaged,” they stated.
I know there are some readers that are against government funding and this might make them mad, but it needs to be said — the government needs to fund the arts during this incredibly tough time. They haven’t done it yet and the result has put them in a position of either open up and potentially harm their patrons or stay closed forever.
Let’s take a page from the conservative United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who funded $2 billion in emergency aid for the arts. Granted, America’s would have to be even bigger. But if we want a future where spaces like the Missouri Theater can continue to operate and have groups fill its space, it’s going to have to come from a source bigger than people’s wallets.
I don’t know if it will happen. Seeing as the government is failing to help current unemployed or furloughed workers, I sadly don’t have a lot of faith for them to make it happen. But I would love to be wrong because these arts organizations need to thrive in times like these. And if it goes away, it takes something special from this community.