FROM CHRIS’ HOME DESK – AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW
MAY 18, 2020
I have to confess that I am not a dog person. I’m actually not a pet person, if you must know. Growing up, we never had a dog and I never had the desire to ask for one as a child. I also never wanted one as an adult. My wife and I have been married for eighteen years and we have three kids who have begged for a dog pretty much since they were born, but we resisted. Nearly everyone in our families has dogs so it’s not as if we haven’t had the opportunity. I’ve heard all the good reasons to get one, especially for children, but we have always pushed back. We’ve had our reasons – we’re too busy, it’s too much work, we’re out of town too much, they would be too messy, and of course I’m allergic to dogs. Our kids persisted and insisted that they needed a dog. They even went so far as to create a PowerPoint presentation on it, but we stood our ground…until now.
With the pandemic keeping us home for the foreseeable future, it became clear that if we were ever going to do it, this would be the time. So on Saturday, we surprised them when we brought home an 8-week old Maltipoo (Maltese and Poodle mix). They decided to name her Charlie, and I hate to admit it, but I’m in love with this dog.
This new situation we are in has challenged us to think in new ways. I keep hearing the word “pivot.” I’m not really a fan of buzz words, but we do need to make changes in order to live and operate in a post-COVID world. Our family unit just made a huge leap – the way we operate is going through a major alteration. Ultimately, we will be better for it. We will be a stronger family unit, and having a new member to care for will teach us many lessons and bring us closer together.
So when the curtain rises again at the Bankhead Theater what will be different? There are new guidelines coming out now regarding how we can operate safely. Most indicators point to the first concerts being outdoors. Some places are experimenting with car concerts. I’m starting to talk with different potential partners about moving what we present to outdoor spaces until we get an “all-clear” to operate in the Bankhead under the new guidelines. There is also a lot of talk about online and streaming concerts. I believe that those elements can be a nice addition to what we are able to offer, but they will never be able to replace the allure of live performance. There is a magic in sharing the arts, sitting with others in a darkened theater. And there will be a day when that will once again be our primary operation. I believe it may take a vaccine to get us to that point, but I’ve been surprised before. I once thought I wouldn’t like owning a dog!
In order to make any of this a reality, we need you now more than ever. May is our annual membership drive, so please consider a donation. As an added bonus, all gifts this month are being matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $50,000. Achieving that milestone would be a great reason for celebration and will help carry us through the time until we can open again.
Until we meet again in person, please stay safe and healthy, and thank you for your continued support.
APRIL 29, 2020
Last week I shared a weekly ritual I have with my twelve-year-old son, and someone reached out and suggested that, since I set that precedent, I might want to include my other family members in future stories. So here’s one about my older son who is fifteen. He’s a bit of a movie buff and since the shelter in place has started we have been picking movies to watch together. The selection criteria we use is simply, “movies everyone should see.” So far we’ve watched films like Forest Gump, Dead Poets Society, and The Matrix. There’s one in particular we watched that just started to resonate with me, and that one is Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Bill Murray plays a grumpy news reporter who keeps repeating the same day over and over again, and it happens to be Groundhog day in a small town that he hates. At first, he wakes up every day full of resentment, but then slowly but surely, he uses the time he has been given to learn new skills, get to know the people in his community, and improve himself as a person. He turns it from a curse to a gift.
The longer this shelter-in-place goes, the more it feels like Groundhog Day to me. I wake up at the same time and place, and basically have the same routine. I’ve talked to several people about this phenomenon, and they have all confirmed the same thing. So now my new question when I talk to people is, “What are you learning?” I know that for some people this order has been a true hardship financially and emotionally. Others who are more fortunate have been able to take the opportunity to learn to make sourdough bread or sew, or some other new skill. My college friends and I are constantly sending photos of the food we’re grilling. It’s so weird, but it’s fun too. I just learned how to spatchcock a chicken last weekend for the first time (if you’re wondering, it’s a way to prepare a chicken for cooking). Thank you YouTube.
So now my question to everyone out there is, “How are you using this time to grow?” Have you picked up an instrument that you haven’t touched in forever? Are you reading more? Do you pick up the phone and call old friends and family? Are you having Zoom reunions, or zoomunions as I like to call them? I don’t in any way want to discount how hard this has been on our communities, but I’ve always tried to be a “silver-lining” person, and I have a feeling when we come out of this, we will all be better at something.
Let’s talk about the arts because that’s something I am always thinking about. Once we are able to resume life as before, the way the arts industry operates will be markedly different. Online forms of delivery will continue to increase. We will experience the arts together and separately at the same time. The challenge for more intimate venues like ours will be, “How do we set ourselves apart in this new landscape?”
At the heart of what we do, Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center is still a local, community-centered nonprofit organization. Those local connections will become more important. Instead of focusing outward, we will find ways to focus in, to celebrate and explore what is happening here in our region. It won’t be the same as before, and it shouldn’t be. This is not Groundhog Day, but until our world starts to open up again, we can use this time to enhance our abilities, to engage our community of art creators and art lovers in new ways that will remain meaningful now and into the future.
APRIL 22, 2020
My twelve-year-old son and I enjoy a guilty pleasure every Wednesday night – it’s our ritual to share the couch and obsess over “The Masked Singer” on television. If you’ve never seen it, let me summarize it for you. Celebrities in elaborate costumes perform on stage for a panel of other celebrities who have fun guessing who is behind the mask. Admittedly, I don’t know much about pop culture so I’m clueless most of the time, but it’s not deep or meaningful, just pure ridiculous fun. The performers say that by being in disguise – wearing masks – they feel liberated, free of the normal expectations and pressures of being in the public eye. Maybe there’s something to that.
Now that we all have to wear masks, I don’t necessarily feel more free. They protect us, but I have to admit I really miss smiles. I have a somewhat low-key personality and have made a concerted effort over the last few years to smile more. Masks make that tough and drawing a smile on the front might look creepy!
I miss other things too, especially being able to program great performances and events for the community. We’re unable right now to execute on our mission, which means we are unable to provide the connection with the arts that helps lift all of us up in a way we really need right now. In essence, our organization is having to wear a mask. But just like a hidden smile, there are some positive things to report from behind that mask.
First of all, I’m happy to share that Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center received the important Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan which will allow us to continue with our current staff for the next few months. During that time, we will be planning programs you can access safely from home and, eventually, at the Bankhead Theater when that becomes possible. Make sure you stay connected with us to get announcements and the latest updates.
While I am very pleased about the loan, we are still approaching our fiscal year-end on June 30 with more than $1,000,000 in lost revenue. It will be several years before we are able to operate at the level we did before COVID-19. If you can help support our efforts, there are new incentives for you through the CARES act. You can now claim an “above-the-line” tax deduction for up to $300 in cash donations – allowing most people to include charitable contributions on their taxes. We also welcome gifts such as stock or IRA minimum distribution contributions.
Thank you for all the support and encouragement we’ve received so far. I’m looking forward to seeing your smiles again.
APRIL 15, 2020
I grew up in the cassette era and still have all the tapes I bought during my teenage years. I diligently kept them safe under my bed for over 20 years but, after a recent remodel, I was able to find space for them in my home office. So now as I sit at my desk each day, I’m reminded of the artists who inspired me and led me on my musical path. Some have held up well over the years like Dire Straits, Queen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, REM, the Rolling Stones, and the Eagles. Some not so much (seriously? the Surf Punks?) Either way, one of the upsides of working from home is the inspiration I still get from the music of my youth.
Not that work doesn’t fully occupy my head and heart these days. Let me share what I’m keeping an eye on with regards to Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center and our entire arts community. I’m pleased to see that there are indicators that people do miss the live experience of the arts and do intend to come back when they can. Some things may change how an Arts organization operates but, in general, there is a desire and an intent to reconnect with those things which celebrate what makes us human. Spaces that allow greater personal distance such as museums and outdoor experiences will likely see the earliest return to participation. Indoor spaces will be a little later, but eventually there will be a tipping point when crowds are able to reach a certain size.
At the Bankhead Theater and Bothwell Arts Center, we await guidance from the county with regards to opening and will be sure to operate under any required guidelines to insure the safety of our patrons, volunteers, staff and performers. While we don’t know when that will be, I believe we will have a much clearer picture by the end of April.
Work also provides me with inspiration. One of my goals is to find ways to promote the talents of emerging and local artists. The Bankhead Theater calendar is quite full in the coming months, but as it opens up I want to work towards this goal and I’d love to hear from you. What performances have inspired you? How could we bring those artists or similar artists here? Are there new or local artists you’re particularly excited about?
I believe Art can heal the heart and feed the soul. As we emerge from this period of isolation, let’s make sure the Arts play a role in healing our community, while supporting gifted and inspiring artists at the same time.
APRIL 6, 2020
Even during this difficult time, I am constantly finding encouragement in unlikely places. Yesterday, I had a Zoom meeting with a few friends from my high school days, some I haven’t talked to since then. It’s always interesting to hear what people remember, and I was reminded how our home was a gathering space for my friends, even when I wasn’t there. Then I was told how much that meant to some people who needed it. The truth is, we all need connection (even us introverts), and the industries that are unable to operate right now serve as important connectors for all of us. The Arts is one of many entertainment industries such as restaurants, hospitality, travel and more. I have been closely monitoring the current climate in the performing arts, and here are some current realities that we are dealing with.
First of all, the primary source of income for performing artists is revenue from live shows and the secondary source is typically music royalties. Royalties are also important for songwriters and publishers. The first source of revenue is currently unavailable, and what people may not realize is that royalties are also in jeopardy because a large portion also comes from currently closed live venues like the Bankhead Theater, along with restaurants, hotels and any other place you might hear music. Most musicians and songwriters will likely start to see a delay and drop in their royalty payments as well.
In regards to the future of our spaces, my hope is that we will be able to open the Bankhead and Bothwell again as soon as possible, but it is more likely that, as the world begins to open up again, large gathering spaces and venues will be the last to do so. Smaller spaces like ours could be ready sooner than larger venues, but it is still unclear at this moment.
With the help of Fremont Bank, Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center has submitted an application for a Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster relief loan as well as a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through the CARES Act. These would allow us to keep our staff at their regular pay and help cover other operating expenses that don’t go away even while we are closed. Even with all that in place, we will still need your help so please continue to support the arts where you can. Become a member, make a donation, buy a ticket for a future performance, and buy some new music to support artists.
Now for the silver lining. While all these wonderful performers and artists may be spending time at home, they are always creative. I look forward to hearing all the great work they are very likely writing at this very moment. I predict that the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 will see a massive wave of new and meaningful music, and I’m anxiously waiting to hear what comes out of this time. Until then, please stay safe and healthy so we can all enjoy it together.
MARCH 30, 2020
As I was going on my daily walk with my wife through downtown Pleasanton this afternoon, we came across a home off Main Street where a man was playing guitar along with a track through a sound system on his front porch. It was my first taste of live music in over three weeks, and for someone who runs a performing arts center, that’s saying something. It felt so uplifting and reminded me why the arts can be so powerful. Even in the most difficult of times, art can carry you to a better place and a better state of mind.
I’ve been working at Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center since 2014. I say work, but it’s truly been the most rewarding endeavor I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of. This past February, I was appointed to my dream role as Executive Director. There were so many things I wanted to do, so much I had planned, the challenge was figuring out where to start. But then, just a few weeks into my tenure, the bottom dropped out.
On Thursday, March 12, after serious conversations with our senior staff and the executive committee of the board of directors, I had to make the difficult decision to close the Bankhead Theater and Bothwell Arts Center and cancel all events through the end of the month. The next day, Friday the 13th, I had to inform most of the staff that they would not be working for the foreseeable future. This was devastating news for everyone, but I am determined to make sure we do our part to slow the spread of this virus.
If that was the bad news, the good news is that we have seen great support from our community in helping us weather this event. Since announcing the closure three weeks ago, we have received over $200,000 in donations, pledge payments and commitments. Our bank, Fremont Bank, has been extremely supportive in assisting us with our line of credit and offering to help with an emergency SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. We have applied for disaster relief through the SBA loan and will continue to seek alternative sources of revenue.
We are deeply appreciative of the people who have come forward to help us out. There are many ways you can help keep the arts going in our community.
— If you have tickets to an event that has been cancelled or you can no longer attend, please consider donating them back to the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center. Our venues serve as home for many resident companies who will also be struggling. If the ticket was for a resident company performance, we will use donations from those tickets to support their future performances.
— You can also purchase tickets now for performances that moved to or were already planned for this summer and fall. Later this spring, we’ll announce all the exciting shows we have planned for the 2020-2021 season and tickets for those will go on sale.
— Last but not least, you can become a member or renew your membership today. You’ll receive discounts and other benefits throughout the year, while helping make our success possible.
We so greatly appreciate your support – a performing arts center does not exist without an audience. I will continue to write a weekly update for the community on how I see things going. Please feel free to check in with me at any time, I look forward to hearing from our wonderful patrons. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.