August 17 is National Nonprofit Day, which recognizes the positive impacts nonprofits have on their communities. Emily Dey, the Straz Center’s senior director of individual giving, muses on the current state of The Straz.
The Straz and its $130,000,000 overall contribution to the local economy reinforces our commitment to the area’s cultural and economic prosperity. Though our doors are currently closed, our staff continues to work tirelessly providing respite weekly through our social media channels while also creating plans and protocols to reopen when it is safe for performers and our audience to return. While it is not a downtime for our staff, unfortunately it has been a downtime in our funding. We are working to secure passage of legislation to assist us and other arts venues but we still need a monetary assist from you.
We’re hopeful our work inspires you to make a donation on Aug. 17 to help The Straz bridge these challenging times. We are eager to get back on stage and with your contribution the curtain will rise when it is safe to do so.
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One hundred thirty days and counting. That’s how long The Straz has been without you. We’ve been thinking about you non-stop since we closed in March.
When you think about us, you probably picture the parking attendant that greets you, the customer service agent sliding your tickets across the counter, the security guard who makes sure you’re safe, the usher showing you to your seat, and the bartender pouring your favorite cocktail.
But there’s another side of The Straz that you don’t see. Graphic designers, web masters, HVAC technicians, finance clerks, stagehands, marketers, writers, food service managers, fundraisers, booking agents, production coordinators, and more. And while we’ve been working from home in spare rooms or at kitchen tables, we keep counting the days until we can welcome you back.
We may be a creative industry, but we live and die by our schedule. Hours, weeks, months – sometimes years – go into planning. Our campus is usually bustling for more than 300 days per year. COVID-19 threw us a curve ball that wasn’t in the script. We can deal with burst pipes, traffic jams, unions and bureaucratic red tape, but a closure with no clear reopening date? We are Swiss-watch, curtain-up-at-eight-o’clock, not “go with the flow.”
We can’t wait to see what future holds until it’s “safe.” To reopen, we need to keep planning: face masks, air handling systems, temperature checks, extra sanitation, touchless tickets, and has anyone figured out how we’ll handle restroom lines? The good news is, we are not alone. Every theater in the country is trying to figure this out. Our great minds are meeting with theirs, and creating solutions to overcome the challenges.
Although many Straz staff sing, act or dance, we know we’re not the ones you want to see. We’re shining a spotlight on local artists in digital content we’re creating and combing the internet to share what others have made. We are excited that we successfully launched summer camps – with more than 200 kids on campus, and everyone stayed safe and healthy. And we’re planning to do it again in our fall session. We’re doing things differently, but it’s keeping us connected with you and with the art.
It’s hard to quantify how big of a challenge COVID will pose for us, long term. To date, we’ve refunded $2.1 million in ticket sales for shows that were canceled or postponed. That is a substantial loss of income for us.
In the world of nonprofits, performing arts centers are unusual: our primary income is ticket sales, and contributions “fill the gap.” Our strength also is our weakness: because of our size, most assume that tickets provide The Straz with enough funds to keep it running. Under normal circumstances, that might be true – typically we use contributions for things that are mission-driven such as creating performing arts programs that serve underprivileged schools and social service nonprofits, or presenting programming such as opera and ballet, where costs substantially overrun the ticket revenue. That was then, but for now, contributions are fueling our work, ensuring our building remains operational and our staff stays focused on reopening.
Ticket revenue is essential to our survival and it’s understandable many Straz patrons – perhaps you? – are waiting to see what happens between now and curtains up. We get it. We, too, stay awake at night, hounded by the “what ifs”: what if there’s no vaccine by the end of the year, what if there is a predicted second wave, what if people are too afraid to come back?
But if something we’ve shared has given you a spark of joy during quarantine, or if you are looking forward to being back at The Straz with friends and loved ones, then please, consider giving a little something to help us through this. As Judy Lisi often quotes, “it takes a village.” And we know our village is a big one, and generous.
Everyone misses that escape of the lights coming down and the curtain rising. So, the next time you visit our website, or open an email, or drive by and see our quiet campus, please know we are working toward when we can be back at The Straz together.