Editor’s Note: Open Call is a weekly column in which we ask artistic and cultural leaders to share their perspectives on exiting the COVID-19 crisis and returning audiences.
We all know the mythical creature called the phoenix who, after passing through a sudden explosion of flames, emerges from its ashes to come to life, stronger and brighter than before.
Well, the staff and volunteers at The Grand are feeling quite like a phoenix these days. While we didn’t really catch fire, during COVID we faced one of the most incredible challenges in our recent history.
With our first indoor performance scheduled for September 26, The Grand is set to rise from the ashes of the pandemic (and over 550 days of closure) to become the beautiful and vital performing arts center the community has loved for decades. years. .
But The Grand reopens, having undergone fundamental changes in the way we understand our role in the community and how we interact with that community. None of these changes will change the essential nature of The Grand and his role in the life of Wilmington, but like the Phoenix, these adjustments are refinements produced by the ordeal of the pandemic shutdown.
The pandemic has changed the way we understand our mission. At The Grand, we have understood that our historic buildings are not the mission of the organization per se, but a method of providing this service to the community.
Unable to present indoor performances, we deployed our artistry in the community, by the river, at Bellevue, Rockwood and Wilmington parks and at the Hicks Community Center. And in doing so, we’ve actually expanded the audience The Grand serves.
Additionally, we used the fundraising campaign to reopen The Grand as a path to greater diversity in our programming and audiences. We have already hired a diversity programming consultant, and these new shows, aimed at reaching new audiences, will begin to be announced in the coming weeks.
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The closure changed the perception of the community. The Grand has been an institution on Market Street for so long that many in the community couldn’t imagine it could ever close. This failure of the imagination has given many a convenient excuse to give up on supporting The Grand as unnecessary. But we must no longer imagine the closure of the Grand. It happened, and no one liked the experience: a quiet market street at night; reduced hours at nearby restaurants; empty parking lots and garages. This stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of a typical performance night reminded everyone of what was at stake and sparked a wave of new financial support and generous advocacy, including from all levels of government. .
A pause has changed the service we provide to our customers. Having less loaded programming and performance, while disorienting, has also caused a period of reconsideration on how we deliver added value to our customers. When we reopen this fall, we’ll have printable, home-to-door, scannable tickets to reduce contact, new self-service kiosks in ticket lobbies, live digital information displays in front of the building, and faster, more user-friendly online ticketing.
We have completed major renovations to the Playhouse in Rodney Square (details to be announced in October) and we have secured funding that will bring many cosmetic and system upgrades to the Opera House and the Baby Grand, as well as in the months to come. .
Our involuntary extended intermission has changed the way we work at Grand – and with our colleagues. When we could no longer safely meet around a conference table or in someone’s office, we found that Zoom meetings actually improved communication and created a more cohesive team.
The shared experience of adapting and surviving the pandemic further strengthened a common purpose and camaraderie.
This was true not only within The Grand organization, but also with our colleagues in the cultural economy who faced the same challenges. We discussed more, reflected more, we appreciated each other more. We dared to be voices of hope and optimism in an understandable climate of concern and doubt; after all, hope is the business of the arts. I don’t expect that stronger bond, or that optimism, to fade as we return to some semblance of normal functioning.
In 1871, a group of community leaders decided that Wilmington needed a first-class performance venue to put itself on the map with its metropolitan neighbors to the north and south. In 1971, a new generation of community leaders realized that Wilmington could be revitalized by an infusion of energy produced by a downtown performing arts center, and so The Grand – in horrific disrepair – took over. life.
And in 2021, on the 150th anniversary of the building’s initial opening, another group of visionaries determined that Wilmington could not recover from the pandemic if the arts and especially The Grand did not recover.
So even as The Grand celebrates this milestone anniversary, it fully resumes its activities as a positively transformed organization. We look forward to celebrating with the entire community the re-emergence of a magnificent, daring and fascinating performing arts phoenix in the heart of downtown Wilmington.
Mark Fields is the executive director of the Grand Opera House, which operates three theaters in downtown Wilmingtonm
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