With facilities still closed, Golden cultural organizations grapple with uncertain present

Some planning to reopen doors soon but others still waiting

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/20/20

At Golden's Foothills Art Center, Executive Director Hassan Najjar says dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on his nonprofit has been a process of “reaction, acceptance and adaption.” The …

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With facilities still closed, Golden cultural organizations grapple with uncertain present

Some planning to reopen doors soon but others still waiting

Posted

At Golden's Foothills Art Center, Executive Director Hassan Najjar says dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on his nonprofit has been a process of “reaction, acceptance and adaption.”

The reaction, of course, came first as the arts center pivoted “rather quickly” to getting as much of foothills artistic content and offerings online as possible.

Next came acceptance as Najjar and his staff increasingly realized that the pandemic situation was going to continue for a while. That led Foothills toward adaption as the staff worked to make the best of virtual tools to engage an online audience.

Najjar said he is proud of what Foothills has been able to do in the past two months as the organization, which had previously not offered any online classes, is now putting on a whole roster of them on subjects ranging from painting for adults to ceramics for kids, as well as virtual tours of the museum and other activities. Those classes and offerings are now reaching people not only in Golden but as far away as St Louis, Cincinatti and even New Zealand, Najjar said.

Still, challenges remain, particularly on the financial side of the operation.

“None of us nonprofits are on OK financial footing,” said Najjar. “Our entire revenue model is based on people taking advantage of in-person opportunities because the arts are meant to be viewed in-person not via a computer screen. Our entire revenue model is based around that and so it's going to be a struggle for all of us, including Foothills.”

However, the organization did experience one revenue bright spot recently as it held three-hour mini telethon consisting of performances by local musicians, a trivia game, a documentary about the museum's 2018 mural project and updates from museum staff. That telethon, held as part of #GivingTuesday activities across the state, brought in $13,341 in donations.

“The community really came out in force for us,” said Najjar. “So we were really, really happy with that.”

Now, the organization is turning its attention to reopening its doors to the public with a planned reopening on June 1 currently planned. However, Najjar said Foothills is awaiting more guidance from public officials and will likely initially reopen with limited hours.

A few blocks down Washington Avenue, Miner's Alley Playhouse is also making plans for the future, which likely won't see in-person shows return until September.

That's when executive director Len Matheo is hoping to open “Moon over Buffalo,” a comedic farce that was originally set to open on March 20.

Dealing with the pandemic has been a challenge at Miner's Alley, as it has wreaked havoc on the theater's entire slate of 2020 shows. However, Matheo is optimistic that all of those shows will eventually be performed, save for “Hope and Gravity” which was originally supposed to run from May 15 to June 21 but has been outright canceled.

Financially, the theater is on decent footing thanks to money and the bank and grants from the city and Golden Civic Foundation. Matheo said he has not had to lay off any of his nine-person staff and thinks the theater can probably continue that way for six months without shows.

However, Matheo said he knows the future will be challenging as the theater will likely only be able to sell a fraction of seats for performances when shows eventually can resume.

Across town at the Colorado Railroad Museum, Executive Director Paul Hammond said that museum is also dealing with many challenges, from engaging audiences while the museum is closed to a drop in revenues.

Hammond said the museum is also targetting a June 1 reopening to the public, although the addition of social distancing requirements and mask wearing protocols means the museum will look and feel differently than it has in the past.

"We are going to have hand sanitizing stations in various places on the property and signage to remind people to distance groups from each other when looking at our open rail cars and things like that," he said.

Despite those new practices, Hammond said he expects nearly that was previously available at the museum to still be there. One exception? The table with toy trains for children to push around, which Hammond called "simply too difficult to keep clean" right now.

But while times are tough all arts organizations, Najjar said he feels the crisis is also enforcing the need for the arts. That's because, in his view, the creativity encouraged and cultivated by the arts is fundamental to getting through and emerging from the crisis.

“We have to come up with creative solutions to solve our problems, Whether it's at home or in the workplace or for our policy and decision makers,” Najjar said. “Creativity is really needed right now and just like any other muscle in your body, if you're not using it, you don't get good at it. People need to practice creativity whether it's the arts or any other method. We certainly need it right now.”

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