This is the second article in a series on reopening arts and cultural organizations across Tennessee. As Tennessee continues to open up in this ever-changing environment, new opportunities and challenges appear as we come back together in person. In addition, arts and cultural organizations are essential to the recovery of Tennessee’s economy. In recognition of the very challenging circumstances facing arts and cultural organizations, these articles aim to bring us together as a community by sharing how different organizations find opportunities and solutions to moving the arts forward in our state.
By Alicia Lark Fuss, Director of Arts Education
As students wrap up a school year like no other, they are now gathering paintbrushes, stepping on stage, and warming up musical instruments. Across the state, summer arts camps are preparing to open—with some already in full swing! Tennessee Arts Commission arts education grantees are leading this charge, centering student safety as they create dynamic experiences for youth in visual and performing arts.
Organizations have crafted new policies and procedures, thinking about class size, masking, vaccinations, cleaning protocols, and more, all through a COVID-safe lens. “We are at about half capacity, by design,” shared David Butler, Executive Director of the Knoxville Museum of Art. “It’s a little quieter than it usually is in the summer. Everyone is wearing a mask, both instructors and students.” To develop plans, organizations across the country have banded together, meeting regularly to share ideas and ask questions. “We all kind of calibrated against one another,” Butler continued. “My colleagues have been really supportive.”
Communication with families was key to the planning process of the Global Education Center in Nashville, TN. “I think the most important thing is to communicate with parents and see what they want to do—what they are comfortable with,” commented Executive Director Ellen Gilbert. As a result, GEC is looking into adding awnings or tents in their parking lot so that students can have outdoor breaks from wearing masks. New Ballet Ensemble and School in Memphis is also examining facility use, making more entrances and exits available and staggering class times to avoid congested drop-off and pick-up lines. Other organizations, like Do Re Mi Gospel Music Academy and Southern Word, will offer a blend of in-person and virtual programs, meeting students in the space that works best for them and their families.
These new safety procedures are enabling arts organizations across the state to do what they are most looking forward to: welcome students back for a summer of joyful expression through arts learning—whether in-person or remote. Drama camps began earlier this week at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, and Director of Theatre Education Jason Gerhard shared the smile that students brought to his face. “I think it was just seeing excited and exuberant kids having fun. It was a breath of fresh air, seeing them in the space together again.”
Connect with your local arts summer programs: