At a time when Maine arts organizations should be preparing for summer by opening sleeping cabins, arranging travel for artists or selling tickets to tourists, they are instead calculating the toll of the coronavirus by canceling seasons, telling artists to stay home or selling tickets with their fingers crossed, hopeful the shows will still go on.

The coronavirus continues to cut a destructive path across Maine’s cultural landscape, claiming the upcoming summer programming of the Bates Dance Festival, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, leaving Maine with the prospect of a summer without many of its deepest arts traditions. Meanwhile, others are weighing their options, balancing the need to inform artists and patrons of their intentions with the changing daily dynamics of the virus.

Curt Dale Clark, artistic director at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, said the theater was poised for its highest attendance, with subscriptions pushing 10,000. The theater is selling tickets for its summer season and to date has canceled only school performances of “Beauty and the Beast.” An announcement about the season will come soon, after the public-health outlook is more apparent, Clark said. “I have seen some theaters give three announcements already with each announcement correcting the preceding announcement and confusing their patrons,” he wrote in an email. “Obviously, we’ll be adjusting things, but we are hoping another couple of weeks gives actual clarity to the situation.”

Ogunquit Playhouse Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney said the theater would adjust its schedule and suspend ticket sales for summer shows as the theater plans for a new opening date. It had planned to open in May with “Dirty Dancing.”

Daniel Nitsch, executive director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, which provides classical music training for students and performances for the community, said the summer season is on as scheduled, for now. “We recently decided to delay the launch of ticket sales for all summer events until more clarity is reached regarding the status of our season,” he wrote in an email. “While our first event is not until June 27, we plan to make a decision within the next few weeks.”

In Portland, organizers of the the Bach Virtuosi Festival, scheduled for the spring, postponed to August. If August proves unrealistic, the festival will move to the fall. In an email, artistic director Lewis Kaplan said of postponing, “It was the only decision, short of canceling, which none of us wanted to do. If we are in the same predicament in July, we will bump the festival to October. We are playing it day-to-day, just like everyone else.”


Others opted to cancel the season now, taking away any doubt. At Haystack, executive director Paul Sacaridiz said his staff and board struggled with the decision, and ultimately decided it was best for the community, and the 1,200 artists who planned to come to Deer Isle to study high-level craft making, to suspend programming, which would run May to October. The decision will cost the school about $1 million, he said, and it’s the first time since Haystack was founded in 1950 it will not have hosted classes, either in Deer Isle or its original location in Montville.

“For us, the decision came down to what was most socially responsible, and the most socially responsible decision is to close for the season,” Sacaridiz said, adding, “I will say, this decision was not driven financially for us. This was driven by what the right thing to do was, and it is a privilege to be in that position. The organization will survive. We will draw on reserves and the support of people who love this place to get us through this time.”

Skowhegan has convened leading painters and sculptors in rural Maine for summer residencies since the end of World War II, and only once in its nearly 75-year history has it not hosted a summer session, said co-director Sarah Workneh. That was in 1962, when it paused for strategic planning. It draws 65 participants each summer, along with nearly a dozen artist-faculty to its campus in rural Maine. Many of Maine’s leading contemporary artists, including David Driskell and Ashley Bryan, came to Maine through their participation in the Skowhegan residency.

In Lewiston, Bates Dance Festival Executive Director Shoshona Currier said the decision to cancel now was based on an uncertain and rapidly evolving public-health crisis and the festival’s desire to offer clear direction about its intentions. The festival hosts hundreds of dance students and instructors each summer as well as public performances, beginning in July. This will be the only summer Bates has not conducted its festival since its founding in 1983.

In an email to festival supporters on Tuesday, Currier wrote, “This was an incredibly difficult decision, made in close consultation with Bates College and with input from other peer festivals and programs around the country, but one made in the best interest of public health. We’re grateful to and want to support all the essential workers who are keeping us safe and doing their best to flatten the curve.”

For Currier, Wednesday was a day of mourning. The decision to cancel, she said, has “brought all sorts of grief and work you never want to do in your career. But it is leaving some space for thought and for imagining totally new things as opposed to how quickly we can get back to the way it was. I have had interesting conversations with folks about what changes might look like.”

In making the decision to cancel as opposed to delaying, Currier said, she and her colleagues considered the psychological impact of the coronavirus on people’s desire to be among crowds when it is safe to gather again, whenever that may be. “For me, a big part of it was less about whether we will be allowed to gather again, it was more what will our psychology be around it,” she said. “Will we be ready to sit in theaters together this summer?”

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