In March 2020, the arts scene went dark! There were no more live performances. Art exhibits were shut down. Meetings of arts groups were canceled. The Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, held the last weekend of April, was shuttered. So how did these groups survive to be able to resume in 2021?

Executive Director Georgina Ngozi of the Greater Denton Arts Council and its venue, the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center, said they did three things. No. 1, they made GDAC visible on the internet. They used their website and Facebook to keep their message in front of users. Secondly, they used a Payroll Protection loan to keep their staff paid and working. Thirdly, they applied for a National Endowment of the Arts Care Act grant to mount a virtual show called Soul Art Renewal, which was a celebration of surviving the pandemic. The city also continued to support them with grants.

Mike Barrow, managing director of Theatre Denton, echoed many of these same ideas. The theater went dark in March 2020. They could not have live performances, so they had virtual ones. They produced The Gin Game and Three for Tea and livestreamed them to ticket holders. The theater also applied for Payroll Protection loans to pay the staff, and the city helped by continuing its support with utility funds and maintenance reimbursements. The theater raised money by producing a cookbook with recipes from theater members and held virtual fundraisers in July and December.

The Arts & Jazz Festival contacted its supporters, who let the group carry over their sponsorships to October 2021. The executive director of the festival, Kevin Lechler, said that most of the performers arranged their schedules to be able to perform in October. They also tried to stay in front of the public with livesteaming performances. They applied for a Small Business Loan (SBA) to stay financially stable. The board recently voted to hold the festival in October this year.

Linda Eddy with the Black Film Festival said that their organization held a virtual festival in January 2021. They expanded their offerings and charged for tickets so they were able to be financially sound. This month, they will have an in-person and virtual festival. They received some funding from the city, and their sponsors have been very supportive. Their festival dates are Jan. 26-30 in person and Jan. 29 to Feb. 6 virtual.

Susan Carol Davis with Artists Enclave said they were to have an exhibition at Rubber Gloves in April 2020. They could not have an in-person event, so they did a virtual one. Like the other arts groups, they used social media to have virtual meetings and exhibitions. In fall 2020, they had two virtual art shows. They had their first in-person meeting in September 2021.

Jo Williams of VAST (Virtual Arts Society of Texas) repeated many of these same strategies. They used social media to stay in touch with their membership and held virtual meetings.

This is not an exhaustive survey of all the nonprofit arts groups in Denton, but they all used the same strategies to stay afloat when the art scene went dark. The internet and social media helped to keep them connected to their base, and the city and government loans helped to keep many solvent. There was also much hard work by the executive directors and members of the organizations that went into keeping the arts scene in Denton viable.

Thank goodness we have such innovative people keeping Denton a vibrant city for the arts!

VERONICA “RONI” BEASLEY is a former member of the Denton City Council and a longtime advocate for the arts scene in Denton. She just concluded a four-month term as the sitting community member on the Denton Record-Chronicle’s Editorial Board.

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