For Denton’s arts scene, 2021 was a year of returns.

COVID-19 put a damper on nearly countless performances and exhibits in 2020, but slowly and surely, performances came back. Exhibits returned.

Festivals had to make tough decisions — especially festivals that happened in the first quarter of 2021. The Denton Black Film Festival and Thin Line kept their events virtual, a choice they likely had to make because the planning fell in the last half of 2020, when COVID-19 still cast a pall over indoor gatherings. The Texas Storytelling Festival didn’t host its annual spring festival, but its presenter, the Tejas Storytelling Association, hosted an online summer conference that blended the festival’s typical workshops and concerts. The annual state festival returns March 10-13, with details to be announced.

The Denton Arts & Jazz Festival came back, though officials pushed the spring fest to the fall. But there was a surprising casualty — the University of North Texas Music Stage, which was a popular stage at the festival that highlighted student ensembles (jazz ensembles, most notably, but the stage brought other ensembles to the stage, too).

University officials decided to pull the plug on their long sponsorship, reporting that the $15,000 price tag wasn’t a good use of the university’s brand strategy budget. The UNT College of Music couldn’t pony up the dollars, Dean John Richmond said, because its budget had already been stretched by the pandemic’s global downturn.

Enter Denton criminal defense attorney Tim Powers.

The local attorney said he read about the loss of the stage in the Denton Record-Chronicle and decided to act.

“I have been the hugest fan of the One O’clock Lab Band for years, and the other lab bands,” Powers told the newspaper. “The program is known worldwide. I was actually at the Cork Jazz Festival when I was in Cork, Ireland. It was such a fantastic performance, and to think that the people in Denton might miss out on that didn’t seem right.”

The North Texas Fair and Rodeo returned without restrictions, and enjoyed big crowds, but Denton’s Day of the Dead Festival bowed out for a second year in a row, and UNT scaled back its homecoming festivities and suspended the annual homecoming parade.

Denton still got to enjoy the annual Holiday Lighting on the Square, which brought back in-person activities this year. And Krampus got his night under the holiday moon in downtown Denton.

Theatre Denton closed the doors of the Campus Theatre during 2020, opting to keep patrons from crowding into the modest house. But in June, the theater opened for audiences for “Always... Patsy Cline. The company recommended masks for the audience and sold tickets for 50% capacity. The performers weren’t socially distanced, and most were vaccinated.

The company returned to its typical fare later in 2021 with “Matilda the Musical,” a show that kept the stage packed and busy, but held masked rehearsals and encouraged vaccines for those eligible. The company sold tickets for 100% capacity for the August musical, and asked audiences to wear masks.

The company ended the season with “Elf,” the musical adaptation of the popular 2003 holiday comedy.

Visual artists saw their work back in galleries. Denton ISD eighth graders have work in Festival Hall through Jan. 8 at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center. The Greater Denton Arts Council also has in-person exhibits at the Discover Denton Welcome Center and the Murchison Performing Arts Center on the UNT campus. More in-person exhibits are scheduled for the Meadows Gallery, the Gough Gallery and Festival Hall in 2022.

The council hosted Thursday night programs, with requests that attendees wear masks in the galleries and Festival Hall.

The council resumed its partnership with Radical Hospitality Group, which operates a number of downtown Denton and Denton County restaurants, to bring back the young (but popular) mural project at LSA Burger Co.

The program selects artists to spend about two days painting murals on the east wall of the rooftop bar at the restaurant, which is one of Radical Hospitality’s eateries. This year, the murals followed the theme of “Soul Art Renewal.” And in 2021, the mural included a few works at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center, too.

Denton’s music scene revived, with Dan’s Silverleaf and Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios bringing music acts back to their venues with some COVID restrictions. Andy’s Bar resumed live music, too. Though, LSA Burger Co. didn’t resume music on its rooftop stage in 2021.

LUCINDA BREEDING-GONZALES can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.

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