Blog #6: Season Subscriptions – How do they work and why to do they matter?

Blog #6: COVID & the Arts — Season Subscriptions: How do they work and why do they matter?  (part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts”)
Below I’ve shared a heartfelt message from Hudson Valley Shakespeare as they pivot from subscriptions to specific shows to flex passes for their summer season. Davis McCallum’s description of subscriptions as a bond is accurate – Buy now and trust our promise of delivering later. Just like a CSA, your purchase provides much-needed cash to keep the organization/business operating during lean months and to help cover the upfront expenses that occur before the product is ready – whether it’s a beautiful bunch of radishes or an opening night performance.
In a traditional arts season (Sept-May), subscription campaigns coincide with season announcements in April. These are typically timed with the last show or concert of the current season so staff can talk about them live from the stage and in the lobby and brochures hit mailboxes (and emails hit inboxes) when audiences members are fully engaged with the company. They’ve just had a “peak experience” with your organization and are primed to buy tickets and donate dollars as sign of support for the work that you’ve done and will do.
Companies with summer seasons don’t have that scheduling luxury but often time their campaigns with the coming of spring – hope for warmer, longer days and plenty of beautiful photos and messaging to remind you that gray of winter won’t last forever.
In addition to supporting upfront costs for the production (costume design, scenic design, planning for direction and choreography, scenic design, music composition, technical direction on how to bring the set to reality, lighting design, etc), the influx of subscription support also provides much- needed cash for those months when there’s nothing on stage, there aren’t fundraisers, and there isn’t any single ticket revenue coming in from performance. Think about it – companies need to have enough money in their coffers to both plan for future productions/events and to pay operating costs (staff, office rent, costume and scenic storage and shop costs, insurance, accounting and legal services, utilities, websites, institutional marketing, donor development, and much, much more).
What happens when your last show or weekend of concerts is cancelled? How does that lack of physical contact and the good feelings generated by sharing a community arts experience affect subscription sales? Add to that, the reason for cancellation – a public health crisis that is affecting every single person in your community, in your state, in your country, in the world. How do you, as a company, support your staff, the artists that you work with, the other businesses that depend on you, and your community? How much money do you need in the bank to keep the wheels in motion for an uncertain number of months? What is “reasonable” in planning for the next season? How many different scenarios do you need to go through the full planning process with? How do you maintain relationships with your audience and community and sustain the organization and what does “sustain” even mean?
Please support our arts leaders as they grapple with untold challenges. If you can afford to, please renew your subscription, donate unused tickets to cancelled performances, and/or make a donation. While we’re stuck watching videos of live performances and taking virtual tours of art galleries and museums, take a moment to dream of when we can be working backstage and in rehearsals, performing onstage, and enjoying live arts performances and experiences again. We’ll be together again…Don’t know where…Don’t know when …But we’ll be together again.



Blog Post #4: Soprano Sarah Brailey on why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

Today’s “The Impact of COVID on the Arts” post (#4) is an essay by freelance soprano Sarah Brailey who also serves as the Artistic Director for the Handel Aria Competition and co-founder of the Just Bach concert series.  An incredible musician, Brailey is pursuing a DMA in Vocal Performance from University of Wisconsin-Madison and has an impressive career as a professional singer – ranging from appearances with Kanye West and Roomful of Teeth at the Hollywood Bowl to Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Handel’s Silete venti, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor with the Handel and Haydn Society.

Learn more about Brailey and hear excerpts of her singing at her website.

Read Sarah Brailey’s full essay on The Well-Tempered Ear.


Blog Post #3: Stay At Home Fest

Blog Post #3:

UPDATE:  This effort has already past and as of March 24 had raised over $30,000 for the artists who contributed to the live stream festival.  Take a look at the website and project as a potential business model for in-person music festivals and concert series that have been postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Check out the Stay at Home Festival, livestreamed music concerts by international artists, Friday 3/20 11 am CST through Sunday 3/22

Today’s “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arts” post (#3) is sharing the innovative Stay at Home Festival which will livestream concerts via their website and @StayAtHomeFestival on Instagram. The lineup includes traditional and folks artists (Alasdair Fraser, Ruben Bada, Ana Rossi, and many more) from across the globe and was organized by Galen Fraser, Diego San Miguel, and María San Miguel, three artists currently residing in a state of quarantine in Valladolid, Spain. (They’re so on top of things the schedule even includes PST, EST, UK time, and Madrid time.). All proceeds benefit the artists who are performing.

From the website:

What is #stayathomefestival?

During all this chaos we bring you live broadcast music from your favorite international musicians straight to the comfort of your living room. Performances will be live streamed from the individual Instagram accounts of the artists as well as on this website. Follow us on Instagram @StayAtHomeFestival for updated artist roster and performance schedule!

Support live music

As the lives of touring musicians all over the globe become immensely complicated and stressful due to the Corona Virus, we have decided to take matters in to our own hands to raise moral and support live music by starting an online festival where groups or solo musicians can stream direct to peoples’ homes in an effort both to encourage people to stay in their houses to prevent further virus spread AND to give musicians an opportunity to make up for countless canceled events and lost incomes.

All donations go directly to the artists

Blog Post #2: A Timeline Review & How to Help Artists and Arts Organizations

Little Brown Notebook Blog Post #2: A Timeline Review & How to Help Artists & Arts Organizations

part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts”

Today’s post will be a launching pad for several others. We’ll start with a review of the timeline of what has unfolded in the past few days in Madison, WI and then talk about immediate effects on artists and arts organizations. I’ll also include a list of suggestions of how you can help – I’ll revisit this topic often so if you have additional ideas, please post them in the comment section.

TIMELINE in Madison, WI

While it seems like we’ve been embroiled in the tumult of COVID-19 for weeks, it’s only been five days since University of Wisconsin-Madison announced on Wednesday, March 11 that they were moving all instruction online for March 14 through at least April 10, that official travel to many locales was suspended and personal travel was discouraged, and that students were encouraged to move home during spring break, all as a proactive measure to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Here’s a timeline of the days that followed:

  • On Thursday, March 12 the governor’s office issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency due to COVID-19 recommending the cancellation of events of more than 250 people and the mandating the closure of schools starting and on Friday, March 13 Governor Evers closed all public and private schools in Wisconsin, effective Wednesday, March 18.
  • On Friday, March 13 the mayor’s office in the City of Madison, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued orders to stop mass gatherings of 250 or more people across the county to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and banned official travel to several states and countries.
  • On Friday, March 13, following the lead of UW-Madison and the recommendations of the Governor’s Office, UW System Schools across the state announced extended spring breaks and the move from in-person to online instruction for the foreseeable future, many until “at least April 17.”
  • On Sunday, March 15 the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) issued a recommendation against gatherings with 50 people or more.
  • On Sunday, March 15 Public Health Madison and Dane County announced that all Dane County schools will be closing immediately to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). “The anticipated reopen date is April 6, but that could change.
  • On Sunday, March 15 Chancellor Becky Blank issued the following: “By way of this email, schools, colleges and units are directed to implement the campus telecommuting policy in an effort to reduce the amount of face to face contact.”



On Wednesday, March 11 the Chazen Museum of Art cancelled all public events and announced reduced hours starting March 23.

On Thursday, March 12, The Isthmus ran a story by Mike Muckianof current postponements and cancellations (most related to UW-Madison venues like the Wisconsin Union Theater and Hamel Music Center) with cautious words of from leadership at local arts organizations.

Friday, March 13 (Friday the 13th) became a Black Friday of another sort in the arts community in Madison. One announcement after another of cancellations. UW-Madison Varsity Band Spring Concert. Madison Opera’s production of “Orpheus in the Underworld.” Wisconsin Youth Symphony’s remaining performances. Wisconsin Film Festival. Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. CTM’s production of “Peter Pan.” Madison Symphony Orchestra. Madison Ballet. Forward Theater’s “The Amateurs.” Madison Children’s Museum. The list goes on and on.

On Friday, March 13 Overture Center for the Arts announced that it was closing until at least April 13 which means no activity by any of ten resident companies, no access to art galleries, and no touring productions and concerts. Frank Productions and Live Nation announced that they were postponing all events at The Sylvee, The Orpheum, The Majestic, and The High Noon through March 31.



Venues like Overture Center, Kohl Center, and The Sylee sustained massive financial hits as they are dependent on ticket sales and concessions for earned income needed to pay rent, pay their employees, and keep the doors open.

Many Arts Venues and Arts Organizations learned that their “event cancellation” or “business discontinuation” insurance did NOT cover epidemics so they would receive no help regarding the sunk costs already invested in now cancelled events and in recovering any of the lost ticket revenue. Couple this with what is happening in the stock market and the decimation of endowment funds across the country and the impact is more than doubled.  More on this in a future post.

In a matter of hours, the livelihood of many local performers, stagehands, and technicians evaporated. In a gig economy, there are no vacations days or sick days. When a gig is cancelled, you are not paid. Read back over the partial list of organizations that cancelled events and start to do the math on how many musicians, actors, dancers, designers, stagehands, performers, and arts administrators and employees have been affected.

Most artists have a clause called force majeure in their contracts. This means, even when they’ve already spent hours learning a role or music, they can lose all income for the gig.

From a New Yorker article:

“Perilous times for working musicians lie ahead. ‘Force majeure’ clauses in artist contracts—releasing companies from liability in the event of disruptions—mean that many opera singers and freelance instrumentalists, not to mention actors, dancers, and backstage technicians, will go unpaid for the duration of the pandemic.”

For those who are members of a union, the cancellation may also affect their ability to maintain health insurance as full membership, and benefits, are dependent on the number of weeks worked each year. For Equity actors and stage managers, 11 weeks of union employment qualifies you for six months of coverage and you’ll need 19 weeks more for 12-month of coverage. In IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), depending on which chapter you belong to, coverage can be dependent on the number of days worked in a particular period (for NYC 60 days in a 6 month period), the amount of money paid in (% of salary goes into a fund), or any of number of contractual agreements, all dependent on actually working gigs.



Reach out to your friends who work in the arts and check in. In this time of social distancing, every virtual visit by phone or Skype/Facetime will be appreciated. Sure we can chat on social media but hearing the smile and laughter of another human makes a difference.

All of these suggestions come from the position of someone who has regular income and is not 100% dependent on the gig economy so take them with that privilege in mind:

In the short term, when an event that you had tickets for cancels, please consider donating the tickets rather than asking for a refund. Arts organizations need your support now more than ever and that donation can help them stay financially solvent. Already several area nonprofits are asking employees to go on a furlough with reduced compensation as the organizations are concerned that they will not be able to make payroll in the coming months if they keep everyone on full-time during the weeks that they are closed down or on greatly-reduced operations.

If you watch a livestream or video of an arts event or performance, please donate to the organization or individual artist as they are dependent on tickets sales for income. In this case your donation is your “ticket” to the experience.

If you or your child takes music, art, dance, or photography lessons, consider doing so via Skype or Facetime. Teachers are dependent on that income so try to find a way to continue that relationship in an alternative setting.

Buy art, music, and literature online from the creators themselves and/or local businesses. Looking for a book to read? Order from a local bookstore so the $$ stay in the local economy. Rather than listening to music for free on Spotify, order a CD or purchase mp3s from the artist. Buy merchandise from your favorite musicians and shows. Visit the websites of visual artists and purchase their work. Commission a new piece of music, visual art, theatre, or dance.

Consider contributing to online fundraisers for arts organizations, artists, and technicians.

One group that is being hit particularly hard is IATSE (International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees). As the stagehands and workers who support the entertainment industry, they are completely dependent on the venues and events that hire union workers to make events, performances, and shows happen. Losing calls for the UW Varsity Band Spring Concert, CTM, Madison Opera, and slew of others events that cancelled has wiped out income for hundreds of stagehands for at least the next six weeks, and this is happening during one of the busiest times of the year.

IATSE Local 251 Business Agent Justina Vickerman has started a GoFundMe to help those in the greatest need in the coming weeks.

Last, but not least, here’s an article on how community members in Seattle are working together to help each other:



“From coughing fits to closings, cultural world girds for cononavirus: Museums, theaters, and concert halls in the United States are steeling themselves for fearful patrons, lighter crowds, and possible government shutdowns” by Julia Jacobs for The New York Times on March 6, 2020

“Performing Arts and Cultural Organizations Close Their Doors Due to Coronavirus,” heard on “All Things Considered” on NPR

“’Every musician I know is now facing bankruptcy’ – the impact of coronavirus on the arts,” by Kyle Macdonald for Classic FM on March 13, 2020

How COVID-19 is affecting the arts” by Mark Lowry for Theatre Jones, North Texas Performing Arts News, on March 13, 2020

Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic” by Alex Ross for The New Yorker on March 14, 2020



UW-Madison press releases and info regarding COVID-19 are available at:

The Madison Metropolitan School District COVID-19 page incudes updates and a list of resources (WiFi and Chromebooks, Mental Health resources, Neighborhood Food Sites and more):

“CDC recommends against gatherings of 50 or more, as states close bars and restaurants” by Emma Bowman for WPR on March 15, 2020

Announcement from Frank Productions and Live Nation:

Announcement from Overture Center for the Arts:

In Actor’s Equity (the union for actors and stage managers):

In order to qualify for plan eligibility, you must have at least 11 weeks of covered employment in any 12 calendar months “accumulation period” to qualify for 6 months of coverage. If you attain 19, or more, weeks of covered employment in an accumulation period, you may qualify for 12 months of coverage.

The IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) contract for stagehands and entertainment members who work in New York City.  I learned today that, unlike Actors’ Equity, there is not a standard across the country and that each chapter negotiates their own benefits.

Employees qualify once they have worked 60 days under a contract in a period of six consecutive months. Coverage then starts on the first day of the second month after you complete the 60-day requirement, and continues for six months. Coverage continues uninterrupted beyond your initial eligibility period as long as you have 60 days in covered employment in each successive six-consecutive-month period.


Image Credit:

Image taken from a Colonial Players blog about the history of the ghost light:!/ccomment

Blog #1: Livestreaming Arts Events

Little Brown Notebook Blog Post #1: Livestreaming Arts Events

part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts” aimed at sparking conversations between artists, arts organizations, and community members
The complicated business of livestreaming. While the barriers to producing a livestream are few – anyone with a cell phone or an iPad and a good wifi connection or unlimited data can set up a Facebook Live event – the legal realities complicate matters quite a bit. In the coming days, weeks, and, potentially, months of event cancellations and social distancing, you may be wondering why some arts organization and artists are quick to offer a livestream option and others seem to be missing out on the opportunity.
Before we dive in, a quick note to mention that I’ve included a list of upcoming livestreamed events at the bottom of this post, among them an early music concert by Calmus Ensemble streaming from Germany at 1 pm Central Time today (Saturday 3/14).
The age-old challenge of “free.” For most artists, live streaming is offering your art, your work, your livelihood for “free.” Why the quotation marks? Just because you, the audience, aren’t paying admission or purchasing the art, doesn’t mean it is “free” as the artist/s invested a lot of time, training, and resources into creating that piece – whether it’s a midday concert at the library or a dance performance in a museum lobby.
In this moment, many artists have had appearances and performances cancelled so they are offering to stream concerts that have been rehearsed and that can no longer happen in person. Most are wisely asking viewers to consider donating to help the artists and organizations recoup some of the upfront costs of creating art AND the lost revenue from appearance fees and ticket sales. In a business so focused on the final product, the perfect performance, it’s important to remind everyone that creating art and being an artist are a business with business-expenses and budgets and real-life implications beyond the disappointment of cancelled performances.
Will viewers pony up and donate or will they enjoy the art and leave without supporting the artists? What does all of this mean for artists in a post-COVID future? Will it provide a new revenue stream to reach a broader audience or will patrons treat it like free music streaming services where art is consumed at no cost ad nauseam and artists see little monetary compensation?
If this piques your interest, check out the Reading List at the bottom of this post.
A few of the many legal considerations that arts producers are grappling with:
1. What is the content? While music and theatre written before 1929 is mostly in the public domain, most of the music and theatre created after that date is not. What does this mean? In the theatre world, we pay a lot of money to license a production for a live performance. This license, however, does not include the rights to livestream or film for later showing. You’ll need to contact the rights company to find out if you can get permission to do so and how much it will cost.
2. Who is on stage? You’ll need permission forms from everyone who is part of the performance. Also, is anyone on a union contract as performance contracts for groups like Equity and AGMA are for live performance and not for streaming or recording for a later date. This applies to actors and musicians as well – want to livestream a professional symphony? You’ll have to contact the contract representative to find out if you can get permission to do so and to find out how much it will cost.
3. Do you have a set, costumes, lighting, video, and/or props? You’ll need permission from all designers to share their work in video/livestream. Also, is anyone on a union contract as performance contracts for groups like Equity and AGMA are for live performance and not for streaming or recording for a later date. You’ll have to contact the contract representative to find out if you can get permission to do so and to find out how much it will cost.
Anyone see a pattern here?
This is why it’s such a big deal when PBS or The National Theatre are able to get the rights to broadcast Broadway musicals and why the promise of Broadway HD streaming of Broadway shows is so great. The Met Opera Live in HD programs may not be licensing the script and scores for works in the public domain (Mozart, Rossini, Puccini) and the Globe Theatre doesn’t have to get permission from Shakespeare but you can barely imagine the multiple layers of permissions needed for a broadcast of a performance.
In many cases the rights companies (MTI Music Theatre International, Samuel French, Dramatists Play Services, Rodgers & Hamnerstein, Tams Witmark, Broadway Licensing) who license the script and score do not actually own the rights to record for public presentation or livestream a performance. Check out this message from MTI(which holds thousands of titles) and make sure to click on the message from John Prignano, Chief Operating Officer.
As mentioned, anyone with a phone or iPad can livestream an event but where will that video live after the event and how much will quality matter to your current and potential audiences and funders? Maybe not but maybe so. For individual performing artists, many fans love the cellphone shot video updates they post to share a new song or experience on tour so it might not matter.
For others, like arts organizations, it may be better to hire a professional to set up the livestream and provide your company with a high quality initial product and archival recording of the performance. Consider the lighting, the audio, and the visual interest of watching a video with one camera vs 2 or 3 angles. In the short term of the coronavirus shutdown, audiences will be more understanding and less discerning. If this becomes an ongoing situation, that forgiveness may not extend as far.
Take advantage of the many unexpected opportunities you’ll have to see and hear music, theatre, dance, and the performing arts online. Yes, it’s the not the same as being there in person but it’s better than watching the same movies you’ve already seen 50 times on Netflix.
Donate and support the artists and arts organizations who are streaming events and activities. $10. $20. Whatever you can afford. Many have lost two months of income in a matter of days. It’s an unprecedented loss. Every donation helps.
“Live-Streaming Broadway Shows? The Tech Was Easy – But Oh the Drama!” by Christopher Zara for Fast Company, January 2018.
Broadway Licensing, a relative newcomer in the licensing industry, has secured approvals for producers to livestream productions for many shows in their catalog, if the performance has been cancelled due to the current COVID-19 outbreak.  Learn more.
Calmus Ensemble, a fantastic early music group, has watched their touring schedule evaporate so is offering a livestream (via Facebook and Youtube) concert on March 15 and asking for viewers to donate and help support the ensemble. It’s being broadcast at 7 pm Central European Time which 1 pm in Central Time (Madison, WI). I can’t get a direct link to the Facebook post find the announcement on their Facebook page and watch the program here.
The Metropolitan Opera will be rebroadcasting Live from the Met HD recordings nightly at 7:30 pm, starting on March 16 on their website and through the Met on Demand App with each opera available for the broadcast and 20 hours afterwards.  Learn more.
The Berliner Philharmoniker is offering a month of free streaming from their concert library.  Learn more.
The Boston Globe compiled a list of classical music concerts around the globe including several events on March 14.  Learn more.

New Blog Series: The Impact of COVID-19 on The Arts

I’m working on a series of posts where I’ll talk about how the wave of closures and cancellations is affecting arts organizations and artists, technicians, administrators, and staff.  Eventually I’ll come up with a catchier title for the series and spend days writing and rewriting every paragraph but there’s no use in agonizing over such things when we’re in a moment when the arts world as we know it has imploded in just a few days due to the global pandemic that is the coronavirus.

Blog topics will  include: “Why you should donate your tickets rather than asking for a refund,” “Livestreaming: Making art, and money, during a shutdown,” “The Freelance Life,” and “What does the shutdown mean for arts organizations in Madison?”

Consider this article a primer (and catalyst) for upcoming conversations.  I don’t agree with everything in this particular essay but there’s a lot of food for thought to kick off the conversation.

Read “Arts Organizations are Heading Into a Crisis. A Few Things Might Mitigate the Disaster” by Justin Davidson, for The Vulture, March 12, 2020