PD Editorial: Don’t let the curtain fall on local arts
The local arts scene has had a rough go of it since the pandemic began. If residents don’t support theaters, galleries and other venues, North Bay communities could lose precious artistic endeavors that enrich the experience of living in and visiting our corner of California.
As The Press Democrat’s Dan Taylor reported, theater attendance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Theater groups have had to curtail performances and seasons. Just this year, Santa Rosa Junior College called off its Summer Repertory program, and Main Stage West in Sebastopol closed.
Others are still offering a variety of live performances for local audiences — 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, the Raven Players in Healdsburg, Sonoma Arts Live, and more.
The pandemic challenges are obvious. We all lived through it. For a couple of years, people simply did not gather in person, especially indoors. Even today, as COVID-19 has transitioned from pandemic to endemic, many people remain hesitant to attend large gatherings. Live theater, live music and even galleries all have taken a hit.
COVID wasn’t the only culprit, though. State lawmakers passed AB 5, a law that required employers to reclassify many freelancers and independent contractors as regular employees. The bill’s backers wanted to target some big employers, but many arts groups were swept up by it. They suddenly had to pay higher payroll and benefits for many workers.
Californians let the likes of Uber out of the requirement at the ballot box, but theater companies and many other small employers remain subject to the new rules. It’s a new cost for arts groups that tend to get by on a shoestring to begin with.
Now inflation is causing more headaches. Higher prices have hit Californians hard over the past couple of years, leaving many households with less disposable income to spend on tickets to shows. Meanwhile, the higher prices also drive up costs for producers and artists struggling to fill seats.
Perhaps this all is just transitory. The rebound from the pandemic might be slow, but it is happening. People are getting used to gathering again. Some might prudently wear masks, but shows are a thing again.
Then again, the burden created by state lawmakers and the higher costs from inflation will last much longer. Artists must adapt. To their credit, many local arts groups are diversifying their productions. It’s not all “Death of a Salesman” anymore.
But they need help. It is to the he entire community’s benefits and advantage to help the arts thrive during these difficult times.
Theater and other arts allow people to share traditions, stories and perspectives. They create a diverse and rich cultural landscape. And they bring people together and foster social cohesion through community engagement.
It therefore behooves residents who want to live in a culturally interesting place to support the arts in this time of need. Simply buying a ticket to a theater production or concert helps. Enjoy a night out and enrich your spirit. Maybe you’ll even come away thinking about things in a new way. Those who are able might also support theater troops and other arts groups with direct financial contributions.
We enjoy an episode of “The Mandalorian” or “The Last of Us” on TV as much as the next person, but they are enjoyed alone on the couch. They might be art, but not the locally produced kind that is experienced with neighbors and that creates a vibrant place to live and visit.
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