FARMINGTON — Worldwide, the performing arts industry has been hit hard during the covid pandemic. Empty stages and actors and orchestral members in Zoom squares have become more common sites than a standing ovation or red curtains. In Franklin County, performing arts centers have persisted despite obstacles preventing them from bringing the arts to the community in ways with which they are most accustomed. Despite these challenges, there is a relative feeling of optimism among those within the county’s performing arts industry.
“The arts themselves have been devastated,” said Lauryn Thomas, co-owner of Thomas Performing Arts Center in Farmington. “It’s definitely the first thing to go in times of financial and emotional stress. The amount of changes that we’ve had to make can feel overwhelming at times.”
T.P.A.C., as it’s referred to by locals, is currently running at less than half capacity, with many of even the most loyal parents withdrawing their children from classes. Class sizes have been reduced drastically to ensure the safety of the students and there is a growing waiting list of those wishing to join programs. While some flock to the freedom that arts classes can offer, others are avoiding performing arts spaces. In an attempt to respect the comfort levels of each family, Thomas assures parents that when they are comfortable to have their children return, they will have a home at T.P.A.C. Conversely, Thomas has insisted that if money is the only obstacle keeping children from returning to classes, they remain enrolled.
“If that means their kids get free lessons, then they get free lessons. The answer is always, 100 percent, bring them anyway,” said Thomas.
Many students have been placed on scholarship and while this generosity isn’t financially sustainable for the long-term, Thomas is committed to maintaining what the arts represent to many children and families. With more and more virtual engagement, performing arts classes have become one of the few social outlets remaining for children. Even through the strains of a pandemic, those within Franklin County have recognized the importance of the arts. It’s this sort of mentality that the Emery Community Arts Center, on the campus of the University of Maine at Farmington, has also endeavored to support in the past several months of the pandemic.
“Since Emery is so tied to the University, when UMF decided to keep students from attending in person, Emery was heavily impacted. But the question we asked ourselves was how can Emery still support the arts?” said Emery Director, Ann Bartges.
In response to this, Emery hosted an online visual art exhibit called “Detour” featuring 35 artists, international, regional and local, with many pieces created in reaction to the pandemic.
“It was incredible to curate a show with artists’ reflections on the pandemic,” said Bartges.
The exhibition can still be viewed online. Emery is still discussing plans for the 2021 year with UMF. As far as long-term impacts of the pandemic, according to Bartges, they have “yet to be seen.”
“We have a big safety net with UMF. I have no doubt that the University will continue to support the arts. I don’t anticipate this having a foreseeable impact on how Emery can support the arts in the community.”
Val Zapolsky, board president of the Rangeley Friends of the Arts, shares this optimism for the fate of the arts in Franklin County.
“I suspect in another year we’ll be back to normal. This pandemic won’t have any real long-term effects,” said Zapolsky.
The Rangeley Friends of the Arts organization has remained successful by focusing on lowering costs while continuing limited programming through the pandemic. They have done this by writing some of their own plays instead of applying for copyrights, omitting costly musicals from their schedule, and focusing their resources on small one-act plays, storytelling events and art installations. The priority has been keeping both community members and artists safe while trying to satisfy the needs that the arts industry fills.
According to Thomas, “Those in the Farmington community hold the arts dear to their hearts.” And regarding the current situations of other performing arts centers in the surrounding area, the same could be said about those in the Franklin County community.