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.


Early voting was underway at the South County Community Center in The Woodlands on July 2. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
More than 11,600 ballots cast in Montgomery County through first 5 days of early voting for July 14 runoff

More than 8,500 Republicans and 3,100 Democrats voted early through July 5.

Residents walk through a shopping center in north Conroe wearing masks before Gov. Greg Abbott issued his statewide mask order. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
In Montgomery County, ‘individual liberties’ a sticking point amid public health crisis

The county's sheriff's department said it will not enforce Abbott's latest order, which mandates face masks in public.

Pharmacist Emily Smith opens a cooler for a patient to place their self-swab coronavirus test at a Walmart drive-thru testing site in McKinney on June 29. (Shelby Tauber/The Texas Tribune)
Poll says Texans' hopes for quick return to pre-coronavirus life are fading

Texans remain focused on the coronavirus pandemic and are less optimistic about returning the state to normal quickly, according to polling by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

The county's total COVID-19 case count rose by nearly 200 since July 2. (Community Impact staff)
Montgomery County adds 101 active COVID-19 cases, 96 recoveries over Independence Day weekend

The county's active COVID-19 case count and recovery total reached a new high July 6.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller recently backed a movement calling for the reopening of winery and distillery tasting rooms and brewery and brewpub taprooms. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Texas Agriculture Commissioner joins voices calling for reopening of tasting rooms, taprooms

In a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said demand from distilleries and breweries provides an important revenue stream to the state's farmers.

The First Street Foundation's dataset includes a forecast models that anticipate the effects of climate change and sea level rise. (Screenshot via First Street Foundation)
Analysis: FEMA may be undercounting national total flood risk by as much as 70%

The new dataset includes an interactive Flood Factor dashboard that anyone can use to assess the risk of flooding over a 30-year period for any address.

Registration for the voucher program is now available by phone or online. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County COVID-19 testing voucher program registration now available online

Residents may be approved for free testing vouchers after completing an informational form through the county health or hospital district websites.

Houston fireworks display
Here’s how to celebrate Fourth of July across the Greater Houston area

Several Houston-area cities are still planning fireworks shows with drive-in or virtual components this Fourth of July.

The laboratory is located in a business park in Oak Ridge North. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
Conroe-based company made unusable COVID-19 test supplies using $10-million FEMA grant

About one month after receiving the grant, the company ceased production, leaving behind millions of unusable products and little trace of the company’s existence.

Gov. Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott: Texans must wear masks in public starting July 3

"COVID-19 is not going away," Gov. Abbott said. "In fact, it is getting worse."

The Kemah Boardwalk will be open Fourth of July weekend. (Courtesy Kemah Boardwalk)
3 Houston-area amusement properties will be open Fourth of July weekend

The Kemah Boardwalk, Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and Downtown Aquarium Houston are offering a joint weekend adventure pass for $29.99.