The effects of COVID-19 can be felt throughout our communities. For some organizations it has been a grueling but rewarding period marked by opportunity and innovation. For others it has been a year of tough choices, closed revenue streams and a desperate search for funding.
As a live entertainment venue, we found ourselves facing the latter. Limits on the sizes of social gatherings, social distancing requirements and the fact that many artists are not touring during this time has left us with few ways to generate revenue. We are grateful to our many patrons who opted to turn their tickets for cancelled shows into donations and to the state for providing a matching program to help us move forward. And we are encouraged by the rollout of the COVID vaccine.
Despite these positives, the reality is that we still face several more months with closed doors.
In Stamford alone, The Palace Theatre contributes $2.9 million to the local economy. More than 85,000 patrons visit the venue in a typical year, bringing local and out-of-town guests to the theatre as well as its neighboring restaurants and bars. We are a 93-year-old hub for gathering and look forward to the day when we can safely welcome thousands of guests through our doors.
As you may know, The Palace is more than a place to enjoy your favorite band or musical. Arts education is also a critical part of our mission. The Palace’s Arts in Education programs strive to educate, challenge and inspire area youth by offering opportunities in performing, choreography, master classes and intensives in circus arts, acting, voice and dance. Students learn skills that are important in academic and life success such as confidence, problem solving, teamwork, perseverance and focus.
During the 2019-2020 year, The Palace provided arts education to more than 7,500 youth nurturing their interests in dance, playwriting, directing and performing. We invest $70,000 in arts education annually and are equally committed to providing arts education and live entertainment.
Investing in the arts benefits the community and the economy. Americans for the Arts reports students who are involved in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Further, low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate from college than peers who did not receive arts education.
Simply put, youth are relying on arts education programs to help improve their outcomes. And we need financial support from our community in order to keep these programs running.
Earlier this year, the Seattle Shakespeare Company asked its supporters to “Be Our Ghost Light.” When a theater is empty, the space is referred to as being “dark.” The only thing illuminating the theater is a small light placed center stage to keep the stage and theatre safe – a ghost light. It was a simple but clear message – and one that our state’s many performing arts organizations can relate to during this time.
As we enter our 11th month with an empty theatre, I am asking federal, state and local leaders to advocate for the arts. Keeping the lights on at a time when revenue generating opportunities are all but halted entirely will require bold leadership and a deep understanding of how the arts improve quality of life for all residents. This is the only way for us to remain a vibrant and impactful part of the community.
Michael E. Moran, Jr. is President and CEO of the Palace Theatre in Stamford.