When COVID-19 cases surged across Texas in March 2020, state mandates closed venues at the expense of both venue owners and entertainers. Venues, theaters and museums saw months’ worth of losses in ticket sales as bills piled up.
Stageworks Theatre, located on Grant Road just west of Spring, hosts six shows during its primary season. A nonprofit organization with seven full- and part-time employees,
employees, Stageworks relied on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a Shuttered Venue Operators grant to survive the pandemic, according to Michael Montgomery, Stageworks Theatre artistic director and executive board member.
“We’ve lost $700,000-plus over the course of the last 18 months, and that loss will never be recouped,” he said. “We are a nonprofit; however, the rent, utilities, insurance and payroll still needed to be met.”
Forced closures caused an estimated $786,000 in losses for three players in the community: Stageworks Theatre, the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts and the Texas Master Chorale. Even as the industry gears up for fall performances, many do not expect to make up for the financial damage.
Additionally, The Centrum—one of the area’s largest performing arts venues and worship centers—reopened this summer after being closed since 2017 due to damages inflicted by Hurricane Harvey.
After canceling all planned concerts since April 2020, the Texas Master Chorale’s 100 auditioned singers are now rehearsing at John Wesley United Methodist Church in preparation for their 2021-22 season.
Director and founder Brad Bouley said the group’s pandemic losses are estimated at $36,000 but would have been $109,000 if not for a grant from Texas Commission on the Arts, private donations and savings.
“We lost all of our concert revenue and financial support from our annual fall fundraising campaign,” he said. “We will not be able to recoup that.”
Similarly, Playhouse 1960, a community theater located off Gant Road, is run by a board of six and at least 15-20 volunteers per production. According to board President Sammy Green, the theater is completely dependent upon ticket sales and donations to keep its doors open.
“Financially, we took a pretty big hit,” Green said. “Because we were basically shut down, and even when we opened back up [in December], ... we were limited in our audience sizes.”
The Spring area’s creative community was not alone in experiencing financial pandemic losses. Statewide, arts industry sales losses totaled $7.3 billion from April to July 2020, according to the TCA, making Texas third for highest losses nationwide.
The Pearl Fincher MFA, a nonprofit that employs 10, lost about $50,000 during the shutdown due to lost ticket sales and canceled events.
“We had to cancel planned exhibitions while incurring the cost of exhibitions we were not able to exhibit,” Museum Director Courtney Gardner said.
The pandemic also reached Lone Star College-University Park, delaying the construction of the college’s new 30,000-square-foot Visual & Performing Arts Center. The $21.67 million facility has been designed and ready to be built since September 2020.
“Construction is being delayed temporarily because of the estimated spike in material costs due to the global pandemic and natural disasters around the country,” LSC Media & Communications Director Bill Van Rysdam said.
Rysdam was unable to provide an estimate on when construction will begin, but once it does, the project should be completed in 18 months. The facility will provide space for student and community groups to hold performances and will include a band hall, an art gallery and two theaters.
To survive the economic downturn in 2020, some in the arts industry held virtual events to keep patrons engaged while in-person gatherings were limited.
“Even after reopening we had to restrict visitation and eliminate public programs,” Gardner said. “We were able to switch from in-person experiences to virtual programming, but that came with further unbudgeted costs to the organization.”
During the pandemic, venue owners had to pay their bills, even while closed, and many local artists wondered whether they could continue to support themselves in the industry.
Texas ranked third in the U.S. for job losses in the arts industry from April to July 2020 with a total of 190,000 jobs lost, according to TCA.
Cypress Creek Foundation for the Arts & Community Enrichment canceled 26 shows due to the pandemic, and organization leaders were forced to lay off one of their three staff members, Executive Director Nanci Decker said. Decker also feared for the artists the organization works with since many saw decreased opportunities to work.
“We can’t have a future if we don’t have an artist community,” Decker said. “If they all leave the profession because they can’t support themselves, then we’ve certainly lost much more than the 18 months. ... We’re going to lose the future.”
Many organizations were faced with uncertainty during the pandemic, but unique circumstances allowed the Texas Repertory Theatre Co. to avoid much of the hardship its peers faced.
“Because we were touring, we had very little overhead, so we actually thrived artistically during the pandemic,” said Steven Fenley, founder and artistic director of Texas Repertory.
Preparing for a comeback
The Texas Repertory Theatre will be focusing on a new partnership in its 2021-22 season. On May 30, the group announced a collaboration with the Charles Bender Performing Arts Center in Humble. Its first show of the 2021-22 season there will be “Driving Miss Daisy,” premiering Nov. 12.
Additionally, The Centrum celebrated its reopening in July after closing in 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Harvey. The location previously served as Cypress Creek FACE’s designated venue.
"The reality of what happened sort of made us ... understand, really, that we’re a community arts organization,” Decker said. “So we weren’t that building; we are a vibrant organization that can pivot and move on and find new venues and find new partnerships.”
Cypress Creek FACE will celebrate its 25th season this year by holding its 2021-22 Star-Lit Series at The Centrum and other events at Spring ISD’s Geiger Performing Arts Center, the Magnum-Howell Community Center and John Wesley United Methodist Church.
As most arts groups are working to make up for financial losses, many are just thrilled to still be making audiences smile—even behind face masks.
“We’re still open; we’re still functioning,” Green said. “I think that has been a major accomplishment, and I just look forward to when everything is back to ... a new normal—a little kinder, gentler normal.”