As one of countless establishments forced to cease regular operations in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Glade Cultural Center in The Woodlands was faced with the challenge of offering art and live music at a time when such in-person experiences were prohibited.
Dragos Tapu, the gallery’s founder and vice president of art programs with the Glade Arts Foundation, said a plan to continue some programming and support local artists was quickly developed following the center’s closure last month. Tapu said the gallery’s experience with holding concerts since its founding in 2018, and the foundation’s connections in the Greater Houston musical community allowed his team to pivot to a new online approach for sharing and sponsoring the arts.
“We had to cancel all of our concerts that we had scheduled through the end of May,” Tapu said. “We decided that instead of just not doing anything, since we have the technology, we could livestream concerts. And through the foundation being a nonprofit organization, we can set up a fund dedicated to support the musicians and artists going and performing in the foundation during this time.”
Tapu said established musicians in the area, including saxophonist Woody Witt and vocalist Tianna Hall, helped the foundation to curate and launch a new concert series broadcast live on Facebook from The Woodlands gallery. Since March 21, artists and musical groups have gathered at the center several times each week to share a variety of music with viewers from The Woodlands and throughout the world; Tapu said some Facebook views have come from as far away as Italy.
“Everybody loves it, especially [now] that they’re cooped up in their homes. And they have something else to watch,” Tapu said. “We average around 3,000 views per livestream. And the viewers—a majority are from [the] Houston metro area, but I would say about 25% of them are international.”
Witt, who has previously worked on musical programming with the Glade Center, said the concert series has provided the local arts community with a much-needed creative outlet and source of revenue at a time when many performers' livelihoods have effectively vanished.
“All of my musician friends in town—in particular, those who are working solely as full-time musicians—have no source of income. And I wanted to do something, even though it’s small, as a gesture to them to give them some potential income,” Witt said. “It’s extremely important. If you work as a musician all the time and you’re always used to being out there playing in front of an audience, working with other musicians, and then, that’s just taken away from you, it’s pretty traumatic.”
Hall also said the virus-related closures have left her without a steady source of income in addition to requiring all-day care for her children who remain home while schools are shuttered. And while the Glade programming has brought some relief to participating acts, she also said she expects the climb back to normalcy may not come quickly for those working in non-essential or social fields such as the performing arts.
"For those of us that are full-time gigging musicians, this has been a financial devastation we could have never anticipated," Hall said in an email. "I think one of the biggest challenges will be that even though our venues may start opening again soon, most if not all of them, won’t be able to afford to hire us yet. Just because they open doesn’t mean things will immediately go back to business as usual for people like me.
Since the Glade center has started offering platforms to local musicians, initial performances came from artists scheduled to perform at the Glade Center or at the Houston jazz club Cezanne, where Witt serves as a booker and artistic director. New acts have been added to the center’s online lineup since then, and Tapu said the unique concert setup within an art gallery space has proven popular with artists despite the loss of traditional audience interaction.
“They all love the venue. ... It’s a really cool art space. It’s fine arts, paintings, sculptures, installations all around you. The vibe—I guess it’s a creative vibe,” Tapu said. “It’s local music, and you’re keeping the community interested in all aspects from the performers to the audience. I think it’s the best that we could do during this time. We’re not a food bank or a shelter place, but we can give shelter to the soul and mind.”
Even without a live audience, artists have still managed to interact with their viewers. Tapu and Witt said Glade staff are able to provide live comments and song requests from Facebook to performers during concerts, and some artists have brought their own computers onstage to follow viewers’ reactions. The arts foundation’s online donation page for the series has raised thousands of dollars since it began, with funds going toward each performer for the 24 hours surrounding their concerts.
“They’ve been extremely positive about it—everyone,” Witt said. “If they haven’t been to the Glade before, they’re thrilled to see that it’s such a beautiful space, and they really like what we’re doing, the way that it’s structured. And in some cases, ... they’ve managed to get some substantial donations, so it’s been financially rewarding. Everyone is into it.”
While the series has provided some relief for area musicians seeking to continue their work, Witt and Tapu noted the impersonal nature of online concerts despite their positive reception and said they both look forward to a return to regular business in the future.
“We’re social beings at our heart, and to have that kind of yanked away—it’s very difficult,” Witt said. “The online experience is good, and it’s nice to be able to continue to be connected with people. But it’s not the same as having a glass of wine or a drink and toasting each other, or the friendly exchange, a handshake or hug that happen. Those kinds of things are gone at the moment, and I want that to come back.”
Tapu said Glade is planning to continue its transition to online-focused programming while its doors remain closed to the public, beginning with a video gallery walk-through of artist Veronica Ibargüengoitia’s “Iterations” installation hosted by curator Joseph Staley. The gallery’s new Mercury Bar is also offering wine and charcuterie for both curbside pickup and delivery orders, and Tapu said the center is planning to release an educational online art curriculum for children in the future.
Tapu said he hopes the newfound online support will carry over once the center reopens; he said the gallery's monthly online views shot up into the tens of thousands over the past several weeks. The venue is also planning to host larger live performances for the public after its reopening, including a three-stage concert event and a new jazz festival developed in collaboration with Witt.
For the time being, both programmers said they hope the center’s online offerings can attract the interest of the community in support of the local arts scene.
“I really hope that this continues as long as it can and that once things change, people remember what they’ve done, because really, the Glade—and Dragos, in particular—has been instrumental in making this happen, and it’s really provided a great outlet for all these musicians in the area,” Witt said.
To view new concert livestreams and previous recordings, visit the Glade Arts Foundation’s Facebook page here.
The foundation’s donation page supporting its performing artists may be found here.