FROM CHRIS’ HOME DESK – AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S VIEW
JUNE 25, 2020
It’s been three weeks now since my last blog, and so much has happened since then it’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts and bring them to paper. Last Friday I traveled for the first time to Arizona to attend a memorial service for a family member on my father’s side of the family. In order to get my boarding pass, I had to confirm that I would check my temperature before coming to the airport and promise not to fly if I was displaying any symptoms of the virus. I have to admit, I was definitely nervous to fly, but everyone wore their masks and maintained proper distancing as best as possible.
Once there, we went to the service where masks were required and temperatures were checked at the door. There was a lunch buffet, but you were not allowed to serve yourself or touch anything. I had heard that in Arizona people were not adhering as well to the new mandates, but I was happy this was not the case in my own experience. Everyone respected the guidelines and did their best to keep people safe. It gave me hope as I started to think about what changes we will have to make at the theater and how we will rely heavily on the patrons to follow the rules so we can all be healthy together.
The memorial service was in an old mining town in eastern Arizona named Globe where my dad grew up. Not many people outside Arizona know about it, but I’ve been there many times since I was young. Every time we go there, my dad will drive around and point out all the special places that made up his formative years. It was obviously a special place, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to connect with it. I think there’s something about going home that helps to center you. Coming home for a funeral also helps put things in context. This pandemic has been hard on so many people, yet I still can’t help but feel fortunate to be here right now in this moment and feel grateful for what we have.
Now back to the Arts. We recently sent out a survey to our patrons in an attempt to understand better how people feel about coming back to the Bankhead Theater when we are able to reopen. As expected, the responses have been varied. I’m learning that there is no correct response to these questions, and people’s feelings about reopening are very personal. They will make choices based on their own situations and comfort levels.
Although we have been waiting on guidance from the county, we have nearly completed our site-specific plan for the reopening of the Bankhead and will adjust it accordingly to meet any additional guidelines. Based on my recent trip, I do believe that whatever the conditions are when we open, people will overwhelmingly respect all the guidelines we have in place. We continue to remain cautious and optimistic that we will be able to deliver on our stated mission of engaging our diverse community with the arts in the safest possible manner.
MAY 29, 2020
Like most families, we had great plans for this summer filled with camps, family visits and vacations. Obviously those plans have fallen to the wayside. Today was officially the last day of school for our three kids, and my wife and I have been asking each other, “OK, what do we do with them now?” I have a feeling that question is a common one for families all across the state and country right now. We have some ideas. I think we’re going to assign each of them one day a week to plan and make dinner. Regular exercise routines tied to rewards could also become a thing in our household. Our teenagers will continue their driving lessons with Mom and Dad. And on top of that, we have a puppy to take care of so maybe it won’t be that bad…maybe.
Or maybe since we don’t have plans, we should use this time to make plans for the future. At Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, we are doing just that. This summer our board of directors will work with me and other key staff to revise our long-term strategic plan. The current situation will play a big part in that effort. We had our first meeting yesterday and there were a lot of great suggestions on how to approach it. Just like our local government, we have begun to speak in the language of “phases.” Phase 1 – operate and make it through the closure, Phase 2 – smart, safe and gradual reopening, Phase 3 – bring back what works and let go of what might not, Phase 4 – grow, Phase 5 – start planning again. While those were not the precise words used, that was how I heard it playing out in my mind.
The first Phase will be the most challenging for a number of reasons. Someone recently sent me a white paper from the UC Riverside School of Business that was difficult to read, but nonetheless a true reflection of what I have seen in the arts sector. Over the past year all across America, employment in the creative sector has decreased a staggering 54 percent. The importance of that figure cannot be overlooked when the arts and cultural industry contributes a full eight percent to the California Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) A recent study by Americans for the Arts found that in Livermore alone, the total industry expenditures related to the Arts was over $9.4 million in 2018. And to further articulate the stress being felt in the industry, only one percent of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from the CARES act has gone to the arts and culture sector. There is a wide disparity between what the arts does for the economy and what has been done to aid the arts, compared to other industries. This is why private support is so important to us and to other arts organizations.
At Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, we are fortunate to have such a wonderful base of support, and I want to personally thank you for your help. I encourage you to continue to believe in us. The Arts will be back and will be more meaningful than ever as our world emerges from these challenging times. Your investment in the Arts helps generate a rich return that can support and nourish our whole community.
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.