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Arts organizations form advocacy, fundraising group

OPAL aims to ease members' COVID-19 financial burdens

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Four local arts organizations are teaming up to mitigate the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic while shining a spotlight on their industry.

The Springfield Ballet, Springfield Little Theatre, Springfield Regional Arts Council and Springfield Regional Opera recently founded the Ozarks Performing Arts League. The advocacy and fundraising group seeks to raise money for its quartet of members as they navigate financial struggles.

The four organizations have lost a cumulative $1.1 million in revenue amid the pandemic, since mid-March, from canceled events, educational programs and subsequent lost sponsorships and advertisers, said Leslie Forrester, executive director of Springfield Regional Arts Council.

“That’s just the OPAL groups and not the wider performing arts community,” she said. “It’s quite devastating for everyone in the performing arts.”

Becky Overend, director of sales at Springfield Little Theatre, said the collaboration started as a COVID-19 crisis response to reach consistent and even infrequent supporters of the arts. OPAL is designed to serve as a fundraising advocate, with donations placed in an account managed by Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc.

“We didn’t want it to be funneled into any of our individual organizations,” she said. “This was the best way to do it.”

OPAL doesn’t have a board of directors, so it depends on its four organization members to spread the word, Overend said.

“Everybody’s voice has equal weight,” said Springfield Little Theatre Executive Director Beth Domann. “It kind of morphed from a show where we would all get together and collaborate – which we’ve talked about doing for years – and went to what if we all worked together and talk to people who don’t normally support the arts.

“It’s so important to this area.”

Officials say donations to the fund will be used to offset past, current and anticipated revenue losses due to COVID-19, maintain ongoing business operations and present performance content as the pandemic continues. Funds also will support the organizations’ marketing plan to reopen on a larger scale when the public health situation allows.

Forrester said OPAL’s fundraising goal is at least $500,000 over the next year. Funds will be dispersed evenly by CFO among the four organizations.

A grant program also is planned to benefit other performing arts venues and organizations, Forrester said. However, she said it likely wouldn’t be established until next summer.

“That part is still a bit nebulous,” she said. “We’re still in the process of establishing those grant guidelines.”

Taking a toll
The pandemic’s economic toll on the arts and cultural sector has been widespread nationally, reaching an estimated $14 billion as of mid-October, according to Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Americans for the Arts.

OPAL members also point to a 2017 study conducted by Americans for the Arts in which Springfield’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generated nearly $27 million in economic impact for fiscal 2015.

Nationally, the study found the industry’s economic impact was $166.3 billion. In Missouri, the total was $1.04 billion, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

“In the arts, we were one of the first to suffer from COVID and will be one of the last to come back, mainly because of the gathering aspect,” Overend said. “It’s still lingering for us.”

Capacity challenges are ongoing for all performing arts venues, Domann said. The Landers Theatre, which hosts most SLT productions, has a 527-person capacity, but it’s limited to 130 people amid the pandemic.

The nonprofit theater group’s next production, “Clue: The Musical,” will offer limited seating as well as a virtual option to watch from home. It resumed live shows in July after postponing three productions, according to past SBJ reporting.

“We’re still producing content, but we’re just producing at less than one-third of our capacity,” she said. “That’s difficult, in and of itself.”

Domann estimates the four groups will collectively need about $2.5 million in support to emerge 18 months from now in roughly the same condition as pre-COVID. Collectively, officials say they currently employ 22 full-time and 47 part-time or contract workers.

Back in action
SLT isn’t the only OPAL member getting back on stage.

Springfield Regional Opera also has resumed productions, offering several smaller shows at the Gillioz Theatre.

Springfield Ballet plans to restart its 2020-21 season with its annual December offering of “The Nutcracker” at Landers Theatre.

The three organizations are scheduled to perform Nov. 21 at the city of Springfield’s annual Festival of Lights, which is kicked off by a tree lighting ceremony. An Oct. 14 news conference at The Creamery Arts Center announced OPAL’s participation.

City of Springfield spokesperson Cora Scott said the arts are universal and play a vital role in the Queen City.

“As a former dancer myself, I can’t imagine our community without the joy that’s brought to us by the arts,” she said at the news conference. “Music, laughter, dance and theater are all great escapes that provide us with ways to express values, build empathy and triumph over our differences.”

SRAC is looking to rebound from the cancellations this year of two major events it annually helps organize, Artsfest and Cider Days. Forrester said both are scheduled to return in 2021.

As art-focused events from OPAL’s four organizations are reimagined, rescheduled or canceled outright, recovery time will be long, she said.

“You can say that for about any performing arts venue or organization. It’s just a ripple effect,” Forrester said. “Just like any industry, we’re learning to do our work in a different way.”

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