Conroe draws curtain on art shows, gigs amid coronavirus

Tyrese Bell has been with Conroe's Jazz Connection for five years. The jazz ensemble has cancelled or postponed many of its upcoming shows due to coronavirus. (Courtesy Jazz Connection)
Tyrese Bell has been with Conroe's Jazz Connection for five years. The jazz ensemble has cancelled or postponed many of its upcoming shows due to coronavirus. (Courtesy Jazz Connection)

Tyrese Bell has been with Conroe's Jazz Connection for five years. The jazz ensemble has cancelled or postponed many of its upcoming shows due to coronavirus. (Courtesy Jazz Connection)

The Conroe Art League, a nonprofit art gallery, has occupied a brick store in downtown Conroe for the past nine years, President Brett Hall said. The gallery, located in the former Madley Brothers’ Meat Market building, has outlasted Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 and Tropical Depression Imelda in September. The building itself even survived the 1911 fire that wiped out most of downtown Conroe.

But for the first time, the league—along with Conroe’s other arts and performing arts groups—has been forced to temporarily close its doors. Unlike floods and hurricanes, the effects of coronavirus, or COVID-19, are less predictable, local art representatives said.

Over the span of several weeks, Montgomery County has enacted increasingly stringent measures to limit the spread of coronavirus—first encouraging individuals to limit social interaction, then mandating it. On March 19, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order limiting social gatherings to 10 people, prohibiting eating and drinking at restaurants and bars and closing gyms and schools until April 3.

The Conroe Art League has had to chip away at its offerings—cancelling artist receptions, shifting classes online—as new mandates roll in, Hall said.

We have really been ... flowing with this as it happens,” he said. “It’s been step by step.”

Other arts and performing arts groups in Conroe shared similar stories with Community Impact Newspaper: a loss of revenue due to reduced foot traffic and cancelled events, as well as efforts to transition online to maintain a sense of community. But there is no telling when things will return to business as usual, representatives said.

“This is a lot different than hurricanes because somebody can't point at a hurricane and tell it it’s going to last till April 3,” said Craig Campobello, a local sculptor, who has had major projects postponed due to the uncertainty of the stock market. “There’s no way to know [how long business will be delayed].”

The show must not go on

Formed in 1963, the Conroe Art League hangs and sells art from any local artist for a small fee. It also coordinates with local teachers who offer classes ranging from ceramics to oil paintings in the gallery’s upper room.

Although the gallery is mandated to be closed until at least April 3, Hall said he thinks it will likely be closed for all of April—which could mean a loss between $3,000-$6,000, he said.

But the closing of the gallery has an intangible effect too, one which would be felt most strongly by its senior members, who constitute about 35% of Conroe Art League’s members, Hall said.

“Because a lot of our members are retired and they don’t interact with others at a job, the gallery has become something of a meeting place for them, and taking away that social interaction can be difficult, especially for those that live alone,” he said.

The league has been able to modify some of its offerings. In lieu of prize money for its monthly People’s Choice Awards, the league will showcase the artwork on its Facebook banner for a month, Hall said. And one teacher is also streaming her classes online, he added.

“A woman in class had said ... ‘I have waited my whole life to learn how to paint, and no virus is going to stop me now,’” Hall said. “Whether it’s online or one way or another, they’re very committed.”

But some experiences cannot be recreated online. Officials with the annual Young Texas Artists Music Competition, a three day event held at the Crighton Theatre, had to cancel the last day of the show, which would have culminated with the grand prize and audience choice award, President and CEO Susie Pokorski said.

The prestigious competition is a chance for young musicians to receive feedback from judges and win prize money. But more importantly, aspiring musicians want a winning title on their resume, Pokorski said.

“It's tough being an artist, even when you’re really talented,” she said. “We try to give our competitors and our winners a boost in their career.”

Similarly, Jazz Connection, a nonprofit jazz ensemble in Conroe for junior high and high school students, was forced to cancel upcoming gigs—a blow for students who spent hours rehearsing, said secretary Lauri McGuyer.

“It's hard for them, and it's hard for me as a mom, because I know this is their last season,” she said through tears. “It is what it is ... They are resilient.”

Art representatives said the community has remained supportive during this time. Many donors have waved off refunds for cancelled events. Sponsors have been understanding. And arts groups said they are hopeful the community will rebound.

Hall compared the efforts by local art groups to small theaters in California putting on plays after wildfires ravaged the state.

“The arts are the first signs of light that rises out of disaster,” he said.

Andy Li contributed to this story.
By Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.


Less than 7,000 COVID-19 cases remained active in Montgomery County as of Jan. 22. (Community Impact staff)
Montgomery County's active COVID-19 case count falls below 7K, 7 new deaths reported Jan. 20-22

Active cases in the county fell by several hundred this week, while COVID-19 hospitalizations among residents reached a new high.

One local health system leader said he expects everyone, including those under age 65, will have access to the vaccine within the next 90 days. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-area health system leaders talk progress, hurdles during COVID-19

Officials from CHI St. Luke’s Health and UTMB Health said community members must remain vigilant as case counts climb but that they expect the current surge to peak by early February.

During a North Houston Association meeting Jan. 20, Jazz Hamilton—first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services Group for CBRE—discussed how the future of retail will likely be shaped by the conveniences to which consumers have become accustomed amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pandemic-induced retail conveniences are here to stay, official says

According to Jazz Hamilton, first vice president with the Retail Brokerage Services group for CBRE, between January and November of 2020, consumers spent almost $550 billion online—a 33% increase from 2019.

The Montgomery ISD board of trustees met Jan. 19. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery ISD adopts first legislative platform

“In any year, the stakes are high for public education,” MISD Director of Communications Justin Marino said.

Conroe ISD eyes funding, distance learning plans in 2021

Rice said CISD is well-positioned to address possible state funding reductions, and the district’s response could resemble changes made during the economic downturn in 2011.

The Conroe ISD board of trustees met Jan. 19 for its regular monthly meeting. (Screenshot via Conroe ISD YouTube)
Conroe ISD board approves Caney Creek attendance boundary changes, 2021-22 calendar

Board members also approved spending for 20 replacement school buses and annual safety and security projects.

Several bills have been filed pertaining to remote learning. (Courtesy Canva)
Remote learning plans for 2021-22 uncertain for Conroe, Montgomery, Willis ISDs

District data shows that an increasing number of students are choosing to attend in person.

In addition to vaccine hubs, there are also smaller community vaccine providers throughout Texas, such as pharmacies, that may also have the vaccine available. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
EXPLAINED: When, where and how Texans can receive the COVID-19 vaccine

As Texas is still in the early stages of rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, many Texans are still unsure about where, when and how they can get inoculated.

Steve Hoffart, owner of Magnolia Pharmacy, hopes to be chosen as one of the county's five vaccination hubs. Lone Star Family Health Center in Conroe has already been selected as a vaccination hub provider, and the center began mass-administering doses at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds Jan. 20. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County poised for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

One vaccination hub is now open, but appointments filled up within minutes. Here's what we know about the county's distribution plan.

The barbecue eatery is the second Killen's Restaurant Group venture to launch in The Woodlands area. (Courtesy Killen's Barbecue)
Killen's Barbecue opens in The Woodlands and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.