Vashon Center for the Arts has temporarily closed, in response to the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus (Paul Rowley Photo).

Vashon Center for the Arts has temporarily closed, in response to the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus (Paul Rowley Photo).

Coronavirus dims the lights on Vashon arts scene

Mandated closures of venues have shut down Vashon’s normally vibrant arts community.

Cultural workers are steeped in the legend that “the show must go on,” but what was remarkable last week is how quickly Vashon’s arts community moved to make it stop.

In an unthinkable 10-day period for the arts on Vashon, the latest casualty is Snapdragon and its Black Cat Cabaret, ordered closed to the public by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Sunday directive that all bars and restaurants in the state should close. Snapdragon’s stage has been the weekly scene of intimate concerts, staged readings and other arts events since it opened in May 2019.

But the first shoe to drop, in what became a cascade of closures and cancellations, happened on March 5, when Vashon Island Visual Artists announced that its spring art tour — scheduled for the first two weekends in May, had been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

This was followed by the postponement of several shows set to take place on Vashon. But still, major venues remained open for a brief period of time.

But in less than a week, both Vashon Center for the Arts and Open Space for Arts & Community had announced the complete closures of their campuses until further notice, in response to the public health crisis.

A day later, Vashon Heritage Museum also shuttered.

The museum’s director, Elsa Croonquist, delivered the news of the closing in an email sent to the museum’s friends, members and volunteers on March 12.

In it, she quoted a colleague, 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.”

The closures of VCA and Open Space, on March 10, both 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 were able to meet a set of rigorous requirements regarding social distancing of patrons, sanitation and monitoring of staff health.

In shutting down temporarily, VCA and Open Space are in line with all major cultural institutions in Seattle and beyond. The silencing of the arts and culture sector is taking place 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.

While Open Space’s closure came at a time when relatively few shows and concerts were scheduled, the situation was very different at VCA.

In recent weeks, VCA had announced a push to expand its programming, under the leadership of its new executive director, Allison Halstead Reid. Earlier this month, the organization had sent out a full-color mailer to Vashon households, listing dozens of performances, gallery shows, lectures and other events at the arts center planned for the center through May. This mailer was accompanied by two other color brochures, one detailing VCA’s upcoming Garden Tour, scheduled for May, and another detailing a myriad of spring classes offered to islanders of all ages.

Then came COVID-19, and all the plans had to abruptly change.

In a statement posted on vashoncenterforthearts.org, VCA said its decision to close was 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, signed by Halstead Reid.

“In the days to come, I hope each and every one of us can navigate this crisis with kindness and generosity,” she 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, all activities had ceased at its campus as per public health mandates.

A statement, penned by both Godsey and Open Space co-founder Janet McAlpin, is also posted on the organization’s website.

“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.”

Another art space, Gather Vashon, which sells the work of local artists and also hosts events and classes, also announced its temporary closure on March 13, along with the closure of the adjacent gallery, Margaret in the Hallway. It was the first instance of a for-profit island business to close its doors on Vashon, though the shop’s inventory and gift certificates can still be purchased from the shop by arrangements with the owners. Email customercare@gathervashon.com to contact the owners for more information about purchases, pick-up and delivery options.

Eileen Wolcott, the owner of Vashon Theatre, announced in a Facebook post on Monday, March 16 that she would close her theater on March 20, following the run of the Pixar/Disney movie, “Onward.” Last week, she told The Beachcomber attendance has been very sparse in the 300-seat theater.

Gift certificates good for better days, when the theater is reopened, can now be purchased at vashontheatre.com.

As of press time, VALISE Gallery, run by an artists’ collective, remains open for its regular gallery hours, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

In addition to the organizations that have facilities, other cultural groups on Vashon have made difficult decisions as well.

Vashon Chorale has suspended rehearsals and canceled its April concerts, but hopes to reschedule and perform the same repertoire sometime this summer.

Drama Dock postponed a staged reading of “Turn the Corner, George” by Jeanie Okimoto, until the summer or fall. For now, the community theater group still plans to open a new musical about Vashon, “Winghaven Park,” for a June 25 to July 3 run at Vashon Center for the Arts.

Take a Stand, a local theater company, also canceled its production of “Crimes of the Heart,” which was scheduled to be presented in late March at Vashon High School. The group hopes to regroup to present the show later this year. 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.

One arts supporter on Vashon, Shannon Flora, told The Beachcomber that all arts groups and individual artists in all disciplines will need help and support in the weeks and months to come.

She said she and her husband planned to do what they could to provide support.

“We are not ‘major’ donors but [support for the arts] has always been a pretty significant percentage of our combined incomes,” Flora said. “I think we are going to sit down this weekend and make extra donations or consider doing our year-end donations early if we can swing it.”

She said she also planned to be an early-bird subscriber to Arts West, a theater company in West Seattle, and she said she hoped that VCA would offer some kind of subscription plan for its future programs.

“If they could set it up for fall and beyond, I know I’d subscribe in a heartbeat,” she said.


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