First venues shut down. Then they looked ahead.
“I’m trying not to panic but take it one day at a time,” said Kerrytown Concert House director Monica Swartout-Bebow. That was back on March 9. Though no cases of Covid-19 had yet been reported in Michigan, the local concert presenter had already emailed patrons about new procedures: no hand shaking, lots of hand washing, stay home if you’re sick.
The first two Michigan cases of the virus were confirmed two days later. The Centers for Disease Control declared an emergency, and the cascade of closures and cancelations began. Michigan State stopped classes, then the U-M, then the AAPS. Sports events and entire sports seasons were cancelled.
Arts organizations followed. By week’s end, the Kerrytown Concert House and the Ark had cancelled all March performances. The U-M forbade any public events with more than 100 people, causing the University Musical Society to cancel the remainder of its season. The Ann Arbor Film Festival cancelled its six-day live run–then replaced it with a free, six-day live stream (see aafilmfest.org/live-stream-schedule).
Swartout-Bebow says they decided to cancel their concerts after “a conversation with unnamed source who works for the governor’s office who suggested privately that it might be irresponsible to continue having public gatherings.” They were particularly sensitive, since “the prevailing demographic of our patrons falls in that age range of folks particularly vulnerable to this virus.”
Patrons can get a credit for their tickets or donate them, but artists are out of luck. “If they don’t do the concert they don’t get their fee,” Swartout-Bebow says.
Same for the presenter: no show means no ticket sales, so no income. “It’s going to be painful financially,” said Swartout-Bebow. “We’ll muddle through [but] we’ll have to tighten our belts.” How long they can go on without income “I really don’t know. I need to sit down with my treasurer and do some projecting.”
Swartout-Bebow’s inside source gave her a few days head start. On Monday, Governor Whitmer’s executive order shut down the Michigan Theater, along with fitness center, bars, and restaurants (though the last were allowed to continue takeout and delivery service.
The order initially covered only March but was widely expected to be extended. So Swartout-Bebow is already planning next season. “This isn’t going to last forever,” she predicts. “I’m preparing myself for a surreal and difficult couple of months. But we’ll come back stronger than ever.”