The Arts Council of the Valley announced this week that they will suspend operations at Court Square Theater for at least one year due to financial pressures, starting this summer. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn spoke with the Council’s executive director Jenny Burden about what the future holds.
The seats have been empty and the stage lights have been dark at Court Square Theater since March, when the Arts Council had to suspend all movie screenings and other upcoming events due to COVID-19. Their Executive Director, Jenny Burden.
BURDEN: We still can’t open the theater, and many reports are saying that theaters really are the last things that are going to come back during this time.
The resulting economic downturn due to the pandemic only made matters worse. With a projected loss of tax revenue in Harrisonburg, Court Square Theater is one of almost a dozen groups left out of the proposed 2021 budget. And with no funding for the next fiscal year starting on July 1, the Arts Council’s board of directors decided the theater will have to sit this year out.
The Theater had received $50,000 in each the last three budgets.
BURDEN: They have a lot of essential services they have to fund right now, so we understand why they couldn’t fund the theater this year. Nevertheless, it was a significant portion of our operating budget for the theater.
The Arts Council's other four programs will not be impacted. The council formed a task force to explore the best way to support performing arts in the city going forward.
BURDEN: They’ll be looking at what do the city and county residents want to see, what are they willing to support, what do they need? What do the artists want? And how can we fund it, how can we support it?
Since movie screenings have been on hold, Court Square Theater has offered streaming films through an on-demand service that Burden said does not replace revenue, but still tries to maintain the experience for their patrons. And even though the theater will be temporarily closed, she said performances will still go on.
BURDEN: Well, artists can be creative, let me tell you. Especially performing artists. Artists can perform anywhere.
The building that houses Court Square Theater is owned and managed by the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority or HRHA, which has leased the theater to the Arts Council for one dollar per year while they maintain the space. While the theater will sit dark for the next year, the HRHA will – figuratively speaking – keep the lights on.