For over 130 years, the talents of local and nationally recognized performers have graced the stage of The Grand Oshkosh as hundreds gathered in the audience to watch. The laughter and joyful cheers from the audience were silenced when The Grand closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic. For six months, the chairs in the historic gem remained empty, but as they say in the business, the show must go on.
Within a week of closing in March 2020, The Grand debuted their online channel with the help of a Community Impact grant, The Grand at Home, streaming 2-3 weekly free events through Labor Day. These events included local and national touring artists, a high school student music showcase, interviews with actors, producers and agents, and an interactive Q & A session with the director of The Grand.
The virtual shows proved to be a great option for sharing the arts with the community virtually, and behind the scenes The Grand staff were working tirelessly to get a live audience back in seats safely.
A grant from the Community Foundation’s Fund for the Arts provided monies to purchase an electromagnetic fogger to disinfect between shows, allowing The Grand to open to a limited, distanced, and reduced audience on September 12.
For theater lovers weary of visiting The Grand in person, multi-camera live broadcasting of all shows has been implemented. For a small screen admission fee, viewers can experience live theatrical performances from the comfort of their own homes.
The Grand has been fortunate to have remained opened and overcome the challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many arts venues and organizations remain closed, and a majority could well fail. With continued support, The Grand continues to react and evolve. Nothing will be the same – but the show will go on.”
-Joe Ferlo, President and CEO of The Grand Oshkosh
As with The Grand, the COVID-19 posed a unique challenge for the Paine Art Center and Gardens. Typically, Paine guests are encouraged to roam the mansion and gardens at their leisure, taking in the art exhibits and beauty of the estate. The Paine needed to shift directions and implement new safety protocols to ensure staff and visitors would be safe when the Paine reopened.
A Community Arts grant from the Community Foundation assisted the Paine in purchasing a new online visitor reservation system and hiring additional cleaning staff. Since reopening in May, the Paine has implemented a reservation only policy, allowing them to manage the number of visitors and space out their arrival times.
The pandemic has caused many to halt their community engagement to follow guidelines for physical distancing and limited gatherings. The Paine saw about half as many visitors this summer than they usually do but were still happy their doors stayed open for those who ventured out. Despite fewer guests exploring the Paine, donations and memberships remained steady.
Like many nonprofits, the Paine relies heavily on fundraisers to support their programs. In 2020, the Paine canceled two outdoor fairs and a black-tie gala, which were budgeted to net $130,000. To raise funds, the Paine collaborated with local graphic designer and amateur photographer Gretchen Hermann to display 83 of the nearly 60,000 landscape photos she acquired over the past few years. Visitors to the exhibit were asked to donate to the organization for support during the pandemic, and in appreciation, could select a photo from the collection. The Paine exceeded their initial fundraising goals by more than double.
“Initially we hoped to net $50,000 from the project. We have now netted $125,000, almost fully meeting our goal for all three fundraisers this year. We’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity from donors.”
-Aaron Sherer, Executive Director for the Paine Art Center & Gardens
The Grand Oshkosh and the Paine Art Center and Gardens have been fortunate to be able to keep their doors open during COVID. Through creativity, adaptability and support from donors, the arts in Oshkosh have continued to thrive and shine.