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caption: Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in "Giselle"
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Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in "Giselle"
Credit: photo @ Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

For local arts groups, the show will not go on

Governor Jay Inslee’s new ban on large public gatherings left area cultural groups reeling and worried about their futures.

Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre had planned to open a new production this weekend. Now, the musical theater venue has cancelled all performances of “Sister Act.”

5th Avenue’s Managing Director Bernardine Griffin says the decision will cost the company $1 million in ticket revenue. They’ve implemented a plan to cover permanent staff payroll for the next 30 days, but if Inslee or local public health officials extend the gathering restrictions, Griffin says the future is a lot less certain.

“What we know today as far as how we will respond, will look different two days from now,” Griffin says.

Across town, Pacific Northwest Ballet was poised to open its latest program Friday evening. The show will not go on.

PNB Managing Director Ellen Walker says the dance company will lose at least a million dollars for the month of March alone.

PNB has the liquidity to carry it for 60 days; if health officials decide to ban future performances, Walker says PNB will have to borrow on its line of credit.

She’s urging politicians to consider how the public sector can help support the cultural community through this crisis.

“Washington State is 45th in the country with government funds for arts and culture,” Walker says. “We are already very, very lean and overwhelmingly our resources go to putting work onstage.”

Arts groups, as well as the fundraising and advocacy organization Arts Fund, are urging patrons holding tickets to area productions not to request refunds, but instead to consider the ticket cost as a donation.

“We’re struggling at the best of times,” Griffin says. As far as what the future holds, “we don’t know, we just don’t know.”

If the future is unclear for arts organizations, it’s even scarier for individual artists, backstage artisans and stage hands, many of whom survive job-to-job. Those who are union members may have access to specific emergency funds, but others are left adrift.

Actor’s Equity, the union that represents professional actors, has called on Congress and local governments to ensure that everyone who works in the arts and entertainment sector has access to both unemployment benefits and health insurance.

Meanwhile, public officials are working on various options that might help organizations weather the crisis, including tax breaks and crisis funding.

Seattle writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo has set up an independent Go Fund Me campaign to help defray costs for artists who are struggling. And Arts Fund, the Seattle-based arts advocacy and fundraising organization, is currently devising strategies to reach out to potential donors to help prop up arts organizations.