FULTON — Reopening amid COVID, a story told a thousand ways, from factories to flower shops, from restaurants to dentists, is one of the signature stories of our time. This is one of them.
A little over a year ago, the sun was shining on the CNY Arts Center. It had found its new home in the center of Fulton in a building that offered them the room they needed and the visibility they wanted. As a center for the arts, classes were forming, productions were rolling, and all seemed good. The future looked bright. Then COVID hit.
Nancy Fox is the executive director of the CNY Arts Center. She spoke with me about what happened then and what’s about to happen now.
“We’ve been closed since March,” she said, “We had to immediately cancel one show that was ready to open in two weeks and another one that would be going up in May. And our junior production was in May, and that’s our single biggest income-maker of the year because that involves 30 kids, and we usually sell out every performance. And this is ‘Frozen,’ so it was going to be a really biggie. So, all of that was lost. All of that has since been canceled. Our entire 2020 season has been canceled. There’s no real prediction of when live productions are going to be able to start again. We are looking at the beginning of the year at least, much like Broadway.
“So, to be creative,” she went on, “we do have permission to open, and we are technically open. I’m here during the day, but classes and programming will not really pick up until the last week of July. We’ll start back up with Arty Camp (for those five up to the age of 18), and we’ll start with some art classes for adults. So, we’ll have Arty Camp during the day, and we are limiting enrollment in camp, per the guidelines, and are making all the necessary precautions and protocols that we’re required to do for everything from masks to signing in to having hand sanitizer, you name it.”
In an attempt to keep costs down, Fox said, people have donated masks and hand sanitizer. “That’s really greatly appreciated,” she said. “We’ve been very blessed.”
Fox then beamed about their kitchen. Nice, I thought. You can make yourself a hot dog for lunch, showing, once again, how little I know about anything creative. They’re not making hot dogs, they’re making restaurants.
“The origins of the kitchen were intended to be what we call a teaching kitchen and also an incubator space,” Fox explained. “So, in other words, what we were going to do is we were going to use it for culinary arts programming and teaching, but also, we were going to give an opportunity for a food entrepreneur to rent the space and create a small business. In other words, let’s say you have a specialty that you make and you want to do that, then you can come in and you can try out your recipes and build your audience and your patrons, build a loyal following, and start your business and build your food service and eventually move out into your space. So, it’s sort of a starter kitchen for a new food business. We haven’t gotten there yet, haven’t found the businesses yet to begin with, so, we’ll start with our own kind of little business because we definitely need the income. We’d like to do something maybe next summer with farmer’s market and coordinate a farm-to-table kind of thing. I have one person who’s a chocolatier who would like to come in and share how to make chocolate works. It’ll just be unique things we can book in here, just like our programming onstage or in the art classes, we just look for different ways to get people in.
“So, if we can get that started,” Fox said, “it’ll bring in a little income, and our classes, we can continue slowly moving with those and be ready to offer home school classes in the fall. We had started that last spring, but of course, that had to shut down, so, we’re really wanting to bring back home school classes in the fall. We’re just looking for other ways to raise money and to earn income. We have a raffle out for a vacation, we’ve got a birthday celebration on Facebook. There’s a variety of things like that. And then, people have just been amazingly wonderful, all of our kind, loyal people and people who’ve supported us and really stepped up to the plate, and we’re grateful. We appreciate their support and the donation that they’ve made. Also, by canceling the season that we were currently in, the two shows that we had to cancel and had already paid the royalties on, by canceling those, we’re looking to get a refund back on those royalties. So, the cost of those two royalties alone will cover our expenses for an entire month. We’re just trying to pull in every expense and look for every dime everywhere we can. We’re pursuing grants for operating expenses, which is difficult to do. Most of them are for other things. Fortunately, we’re still an all-volunteer organization, so, it’s not like we had to lay anybody off. Nobody’s getting paid. We’re just hoping things stay calm so we can proceed and not have to shut down again.”
The CNY Arts Center may break a land speed record for going from zero to full-throttle in what seems like no time. Here’s what will start up in the next few days.
“We have morning art classes and morning theatre classes. And in the middle of the day, we have our free lunch, free art project, meant for any kid in the county, and they can come in and get a free lunch and do an art project and take it home that day. Then we pick up again in the afternoon from two to five with another art project that is kind of a big, takes-all-week-to-make, kind of project. That’s five days a week for four weeks. It starts July 27.”
But wait, there’s more.
“Now, the adult programming, right now, we’re starting with a watercolor class,” Fox said, “which will meet on a Tuesday night. It’s just meeting for three weeks. It’s a starter class, and that information is on the website, https://cnyartscenter.com/. In August, the art club for grownups will be coming back. And at the grownup event, they get together once a month and do fun art projects.
“There’s a card-making workshop that we’re working on for the first of August, and I just got an email from someone who would like to teach music classes. And then, we also have some groups that will start back up again in August. We have a screenwriters’ group, and we typically have a group of guitarists, musicians who come together every other week. Those groups are open to the public. Those are free. And as soon as I can get back to full swing, I’ll have all other kinds of classes. I’m sure we’ll have some painting classes. They just aren’t scheduled yet. There will be some acrylic and some oil painting classes. There’s a drawing class that’s going to meet on Saturdays, but it’s already full. That class filled up before she (the instructor) could even promote it. But there will be more if there’s an interest in it. We’re talking about the art of couponing, which is a stretch for the arts, but, right now, it would be very useful. We have a couple of ladies who are just queens at couponing and saving amazing amounts of money. So, we thought that would be a good service to the community. So, if we can get that going it might help people start to feel more comfortable about their shopping and stretch their dollars a little bit. Any kind of practical thing like that, we’re open for.
“We’re sort of going month-to-month,” Fox continued. “We were solid gold up through August, and then by turning in these royalties we have refunds back that should cover September. Hopefully, we’ll hear about a grant in August that we think will push us over through to November at least, and then, we have been doing fundraisers, and people have been very generous in their donations. So, we’re really thinking that between Arty Camp and classes, we can sort of limp our way through the end of the year, at least that’s my prayer.”
And lastly, a word of thanks.
“It’s really important to us,” Fox said, “that people know how grateful we are for their support. People have really been kind, and we appreciate it. It’s not like we’re rolling in dough, but the doors are still open. So that says something.”