Art venues respond to the COVID-19 epidemic

Art galleries closed. Blank cinema screens. Museums empty of visitors. Series of concerts abandoned or uncertain.

The COVID-19 outbreak has virtually shut down the arts for now, or at least the public presentation of it, hitting art venues and artists in their wallets and sense of purpose.

Today, some of these sites are looking for ways to maintain links with the public and their supporters through online programs – and perhaps generate some income in the process.

From movies shown live to memorable concert videos from the long-running Watermelon Wednesdays series, to online activities that kids can access through the Springfield Museums website, different venues are trying to maintain what Kay Simpson, President and Chief from the management of the Springfield complex, calls “the connection we have with the public.”

Last week, Amherst Cinema launched what it calls its “Virtual Cinema” program, which gives moviegoers direct access to first-run movies the cinema has planned to air in-house this year. By the time the cinema reopens, approximately three films will be available for streaming each week, each with a price roughly comparable to that of a single ticket for a regular film; unlimited viewing will be available for each film during a three-day rental period.

The money generated will be divided between the cinema and the independent film distributors who make the films available, said George Myers, CEO of Amherst Cinema.

“As much as we would love to have people here together to watch these movies, the reality right now is very different,” Myers said. “But one of the advantages of being an independent cinema is that we can work with independent distributors, who have more flexibility to adapt to this new situation… It’s really a very good opportunity for people who are stuck at home right now. ” ‘

Three new films, which can be streamed online at the cinema’s website, opened on March 26 and will end on April 2, including “Corpus Christi”, a Polish film nominated for best international film at this year’s Oscars. . The Los Angeles Times headlined “Corpus Christi” about a former inmate who, under strange circumstances, becomes a village priest, “a dazzling, intense, disturbing and ineluctably uplifting drama.”

This film and two others – “Fantastic Fungi” and “No Data Plan” – will be available until April 2, with new films to be added on Friday April 3. Another film, the Portuguese “Vitalina Varela”, is now available via April 16, too.

Movies online will continue to be offered until the cinema reopens, which was previously scheduled for April 3 but will no doubt now be postponed, Myers said.

“We have 6,000 members and we want to be able to offer them something while we wait,” said Myers, who notes that Amherst Cinema is also trying to put on short additions to its online offerings, such as brief interviews with the directors, replacing the internal questions and answers that the cinema has already organized with directors and other personalities from its films.

“And,” he added, “that also gives us a little bit of financial support.”

At Springfield Museums, Simpson says a number of online activities have been added or expanded, including interactive games for kids, most notably through the website, which is dedicated to the Dr. Seuss Museum. Children can learn to make a “3D cat”, for example, with paper, scissors, glue and coloring materials; the site also includes online games. Online art classes for adults, like the one on watercolor painting which will run for seven weeks starting April 8, have also been added.

New science videos of “Safari Dan” – museum aquarist Dan Augustino – have been featured and have proven to be popular so far, said Simpson, who noted that the new content meets both demands of the audience and that staff want to stay in touch with people as much as possible.

In a typical year, Simpson said, well over 400,000 people – regular visitors, school groups, museum members and others – walk through the doors. “It’s such a strange and different feeling to have no one here, with no one on the Quadrangle” where Dr Seuss’ sculpture garden is located, she said. “Now with so many people working or learning from home, we’re trying to communicate through the website and social media and keep in touch. ”

The popular Watermelon Wednesdays series, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has featured dozens and dozens of top acoustic bands over the years, with shows usually sold out well in advance. In an email, Paul Newlin, founder and director of the series, said that many of these performances, in the West Whately Chapel, were filmed by FCATMedia (Frontier Community Access Television) and are now available online at the series. website.

From a 2011 performance by the Sweetback Sisters, to a 2016 concert by Heather Maloney and Darlingside, to a 2015 performance by the St. Petersburg Quartet, over 30 concerts can be viewed on The site also includes a link to donate to Watermelon Wednesdays which Newlin says will be pooled for musicians “who out of necessity may have to cancel their shows this summer.”

A growing number of other ‘exhibits’ and online activities are added regularly by arts organizations or event hosts:

■ Amherst Arts Night Plus will go virtual on April 2, with a series of back-to-back interviews with local artists who have exhibited in Amherst galleries since November 2019. It will air on Amherst Media, Channel 15 from 17 h and can also be broadcast on

■ Karen Skolfield, Poet Laureate from Northampton and Writing Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has compiled an online list of poems and poetry resources for the community. Resources range from workshops and online readings to podcasts and audiobooks, writing prompts, and sample journals.

■ This month’s Amherst Song and Story Exchange with folk singer-songwriter Pat Lamanna will take place April 4 at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom. Visit and click on the “register” button at the top of the page.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]