Arts in the time of coronavirus | UPDATED

Arts groups react to emerging threat, VCA, Heritage Museum and Open Space shutter until further notice


One day after the Beachcomber went to press this week, Vashon Center for the Arts and Open Space for Arts and Community have announced that they had both temporarily closed until further notice, in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The closures came within hours of the news that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has banned all gatherings of more than 250 people, and King County Executive Dow Constantine has banned gatherings of less than 250 people unless organizers are able to meet a set of requirements social distancing, sanitation and monitoring of staff health.

In shutting down temporarily, VCA is in line with major cultural institutions in Seattle, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, The 5th Ave. Theater and Seattle Theatre Group. The silencing of the arts and culture sector has spread nationwide: on Thursday, March 12, Broadway theaters also went dark.

VCA’s closure affects all its programs, including its gallery, performance programs and education programs for youth and adults. At Open Space, the closure is also comprehensive, including all classes and performances through the end of March.

In a statement posted on, VCA explained its rationale for the decision, based on fast-moving developments including the news of Vashon’s first confirmed case of illness linked to the coronavirus.

The organization also sent an email to constituents on Wednesday afternoon, detailing its decision. It was signed by Allison Halstead Reid, who was recently appointed executive director of the organization.

“In the days to come, I hope each and every one of us can navigate this crisis with kindness and generosity,” Halstead Reid wrote. “Precautionary measures and remaining healthy are needed, but keeping our spirits up and holding others in our hearts is equally as important.”

Halstead Reid also directly addressed Vashon’s creative community.

“I want the artists, creatives and performers who grace our stage and share their work on our gallery walls, to know that you are in our hearts and minds,” she wrote. “The gifts you bring our community are infinite and being a home to all of you is why we are here.”

In a phone interview, David Godsey, co-founder of Open Space, said decisions about upcoming shows at Open Space would be made in as timely a way as possible, but for now, Open Space would also close its doors.

“We’re going to keep following state, county and local government mandates, and King County Public Health guidelines,” Godsey said, adding that an updated statement announcing the closure would be posted at

That statement includes a message signed by Godsey and Open Space co-founder Janet McAlpin.

“Twelve years ago, we opened the doors of Open Space for Arts & Community explicitly because gathering together is one of the best ways to encourage a strong and resilient community,” Godsey and McAlpin wrote. “The irony is not lost on us that we must now temporarily close the facility for that exact same reason.”

In addition to these developments at VCA and Open Space, the Vashon School District announced the closure of the island’s schools until further notice.

Eileen Wolcott, owner of Vashon Theatre, in an email to The Beachcomber on Wednesday, said that she still planned to continue her run of the Pixar/Disney movie, “Onward,” though attendance has been sparse, with only 18 people attending the show last night in the 300-seat theater.

“My plan is to close after my contract [for “Onward”] is up next Thursday,” Wolcott said, in an email. “We will close by May 20, possibly sooner … and we will turn our attention to projects and hold on until things get better.”

On March 13, SIFF cinemas and Northwest Film Forum, in Seattle, closed their doors to the public.

On March 12, The Vashon Heritage Museum closed, stating it will remain shuttered until March 24, when its leadership will reevaluate the situation. A March 17 film screening, “Saving Face,” sponsored by the museum and set to take place at Vashon Theatre, had been previously canceled.

The museum’s director, Elsa Croonquist, delivered the news of the closing in an email sent to the museum’s friends, members and volunteers. In it, she quoted a colleague, who works in another museum, who told her, “As a nation, we do not want to encourage people to go out and about unnecessarily. This is a time for all of us to self-quarantine, for a little while, to give the virus a chance to settle down.”

In addition to the organizations that have a facility others are making difficult decisions as well.

Vashon Chorale suspended rehearsals and cancelled the April concerts, with hopes to reschedule and perform the same repertoire sometime this summer.Drama Dock has postponed a staged reading of “Turn the Corner, George”by Jeanie Okimoto, until the summer or fall.

An abridged version of the play, “Crimes of the Heart,” will not be presented at Snapdragon, as stated in the Beachcomber’s print edition of the following article. Donations to help recoup the costs of the canceled production, which was to be a full production at Vashon High School later this month, can be made by sending checks to its nonprofit production company, Take A Stand, 9909 SW 123rd Place, Vashon, WA 98070.

The Beachcomber original story, below, was published in the Thursday, March 12 issue of the paper. It was based on interviews held on late Monday afternoon with VCA and Open Space and written on Monday night. It went to press on Tuesday, March 10. It is provided here as a snapshot of the rapidly evolving changes in our the arts community, and the decision-making process by leaders in that community.

Please contact arts editor Elizabeth Shepherd at with news tips and updated information about the arts community’s response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.


In recent days, concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have all but stopped the show in Vashon’s arts community, with cascading postponements for music concerts, theater productions, dance shows, and lectures that had been long scheduled for last and this weekend.

In an evolving story, here is what is going on now at Vashon Center for the Arts, Open Space for Arts and Community, and the Vashon Theatre.

VCA takes it one show at a time

The island largest presenter, and a major employer of artists on the island, is mirroring the actions taken by most organizations of its kind in the region — including Edmonds Center for the Arts, Whidbey Center for the Arts, ACT Theatre, Seattle Rep, the 5th Avenue Theatre, The Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Center for the Arts, Town Hall, and Seattle Children’s Museum — and carrying on, at least for now.

A concert at the arts center by Broadway singer Christine Andreas took place on Saturday, March 7, attended by approximately 120 people, who were greeted by box office personnel, ticket takers, ushers and concessions staff, all wearing rubber gloves.

Hand sanitizer dispensers were in plain sight at the entry and box office, and posters urging alternative “no-touch” greetings, rather than hugs, adorned the arts center’s walls.

But the next night, the theater was dark, as Americana artist Iris DeMent postponed her nearly sold-out concert at VCA. DeMent, who lives in Iowa City, Iowa, had also canceled a show at Seattle’s Triple Door nightclub, citing coronavirus concerns.

And on Monday, VCA also announced that three performances of its popular annual production of “Original Works,” a dance concert of works created by Vashon Center for Dance, had been rescheduled to take place Aug. 28, 29 and 30 at the arts center.

Other postponed events at the arts center included a talk by climatologist Heidi Roop, planned for March 15, and a March 22 concert by Vashon Chamber Music. Both Roop and the chamber music group initiated those postponements, said Allison Halstead Reid, VCA’s executive director.

More shows, planned for the near future, will be evaluated on a case by case basis. But for now, Halstead Reid said, the arts center’s work continues, with ten shows, concerts, events or talks still on the calendar between March 27 and April 10. This week, Halstead Reid said, the Seattle dance company Whim W’Him will travel to Vashon to rehearse in VCA’s space, in anticipation of a presentation at the arts center later this year.

Like many other arts organizations throughout the region, VCA has prominently pinned a coronavirus update to the homepage on its website, detailing the organization’s response to the virus threat, including an enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocol for its public spaces.

The post links patrons to the latest updates from Public Health – Seattle & King County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the city of Seattle, which recommends that at-risk populations — including those 60 or older or those with underlying health conditions, or pregnant — should avoid mass gatherings.

VCA has also modified its ticket refund policies, offering full refunds to patrons who decide against attending events or classes at the arts center. New ticket procedures, capturing not only names but additional contact information from ticket buyers, will allow VCA to quickly reach out to patrons not only in the case of cancellations of programs — but also to public health officials in the case of known exposure to the illness on the VCA campus.

For now, all educational programs at VCA are continuing, including those for school-aged children and youth that take place before and after school. According to VCA’s website, the arts center follows Vashon School District’s lead in terms of closures. If the schools close, VCA’s education programs for kids will also come to a standstill.

In an interview, Halstead Reid said she and her staff were taking developments day by day, and continually seeking further guidance from public health sources including the CDC, Washington State and King County.

“I feel like we’re waiting to find out what the state is going to do,” said Halstead Reid, referencing an interview with Gov. Jay Inslee on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, during which he stated that the state was considering taking more steps toward limiting social gatherings.

She cited the importance of VCA’s educational programs to families who participate in late-start and after-school programs, emphasizing VCA’s determination to keep those programs going as long as school remained in session.

“If we pull the plug on those while the schools remain open, parents are left figuring out what to do with their children,” Halstead Reid said.

She also shared her own determination to keep attending arts events for as long as possible. Sharing a copy of a letter she has now emailed to all VCA constituents, Halstead Reid pointed out a key passage, in which she stated the importance of the arts in her own life.

“I urge all of you who are willing and able to continue to support the arts on Vashon — whether in attendance or in spirit,” Halstead Reid wrote. “I will continue to attend performances and visit exhibits and I believe it is important for all of us to continue our participation to the best of our abilities.”

But in an interview, Halstead Reid made sure to clarify that VCA is also urging some people to stay at home.

“We’re advising people, that if you even have a sniffle … if you are immune-compromised in any way, shape, or form, heed the warnings and protect yourself,” she said. “That said, if you’re of sound mind and healthy as a horse and want to get out and see the arts, we will remain open. And we will continue to stay open barring case by case situations.”

Still, Halstead Reid said she worried about the impact of a protracted siege by the virus that might result in more cancellations or even temporary closure of the arts center.

“For me, the next 20 days are going to be critical,” she said. “If we wind up going into April, May and beyond in this limbo state, there are going to be dire consequences.”

Part of her job now, she said, was researching VCA’s insurance policies, while also keeping tabs on any potential efforts by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Sen. Patty Murray and other officials to assist nonprofit organizations. She also indicated that she was hoping for the best.

“Could this thing turn around in two weeks?” she asked. “Will the clouds lift a little bit and people feel a little more comfortable? Maybe it’s not as dire as we think, I don’t know. But right now, I’m taking it more day-to-day.”

Open Space postpones events but also stays open for the kids, for now

Down the road, at Open Space for Arts & Community, managing postponements has also been the main business of the past week.

Vashon Events decided to postpone its March 13 concert at the venue, “Come Together,” featuring a host of musicians playing Beatles songs. The show was to be a fundraiser for Vashon Events’ musical instrument library, a service that provides musical instruments free of charge to islanders. (Vashon Events is now conducting an online campaign for funds for the program on its website,

Other postponements included a production of the play “The Detention Lottery,” presented by a local group, scheduled for March 7, and Larry Flynn’s Retirement Bash, scheduled for March 28.

Other events, including concerts in April by Jacob Bain and the Shook Twins, and a new edition of Open Space’s ongoing series of Burlesco Notturno, in May, are still on the calendar, at least for now.

And like VCA, Open Space has not shuttered their youth program, including classes offered by the UMO School and its own youth program, Orbit, which offers drop-in programs and dance nights for island youth.

As of press time, Open Space will also be the site of Vashon High School’s Sadie Hawkins Dance — a rental of the facility by the school district, that is still scheduled for this Saturday night.

In an interview, David Godsey and Janet McAlpin, co-founders of Open Space, said they would respect the decision of the district whether or not to hold that event.

Both Godsey and McAlpin said they felt fortunate that the coronavirus struck at a time when their Open Space’s schedule was relatively light.

“We had an easier choice than many,” Godsey said. “We had to do our part as soon as we could feasibly do it.”

“We’re fortunate, at this moment, to have had several weeks of rentals, so the income is still going to come in for us — it’s just not going to come at this moment,” McAlpin said.

Godsey also expressed confidence in other island arts organization’s decisions in the midst of a public health crisis.

“I believe everyone is doing exactly the right thing to keep the risk as minimal as possible to people who are out in our community,” he said.

Godsey and McAlpin, along with their staff members, have also crafted a lengthy statement, posted on the organization’s website, detailing their commitment to following county public health guidelines regarding the presentation of large gatherings.

“Onward” rolls on at Vashon Theatre

Vashon Theatre is still open, at press time, for its run of the new Pixar animated film, “Onward,” through March 19.

But theater owner Eileen Wolcott said, in an email, that she felt the situation at the theater was fluid, and she was taking things day by day.

“Our little family of employees and our guests are foremost in our minds,” she wrote. “Usually, we feel it’s important to provide a couple of hours of happy distraction during a crisis, but this is different.”

Wolcott said that the theater had seen a 30 to 40% drop in attendance since news of the region’s COVID-19 crisis broke — something that allowed audiences to practice social distancing in the theater.

“We have around 300 seats, so if 100 people come to the show, 200 chairs are still empty,” she said, adding that her staff is also cleaning and disinfecting the theater between screenings and is serving all snacks in paper goods.

But it is not business as usual at the theater. Wolcott reported that Island Greentech events and some private parties had been canceled at the theater, for now, and that she had postponed committing to any movies after “Onward.”

“We’re holding back and waiting to see what is going to happen,” Wolcott said. “We may need to close for a few weeks if things change. We just want to do what’s best for everyone.”

The Studio Tour won’t happen, and VALISE bows out of First Friday

This spring 2020 Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, set for the first two weekends in May, has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

In a statement, Brian Fisher, president of Vashon Island Visual Artists (VIVA) said that the group’s board and members are considering a path forward and options including rescheduling the tour. VIVA conducts two studio tours each year, with one occurring in the spring and one held during the holiday season.

“We are still weighing options,” Fisher wrote. “Many of us artists depend on income from studio tours. Balancing need and desire for health safety in the face of so much unknown about COVID-19 challenges us all,” he wrote.

Fisher also noted, in an email, that VIVA members — many of whom are older than 60, and therefore more at risk for COVID-19 — had voted overwhelmingly to cancel the tour.

In other gallery news, VALISE gallery, a small exhibition space housed in a downtown storefront, canceled its participation in the March Gallery Cruise. The exhibit remains open at regular gallery hours.