Existential Challenges and a Hopeful Future: Inside a Roller-Coaster Spring at Arts Garage

arts garage
Arts Garage President Marjorie Waldo (photo by Aaron Bristol)

Arts Garage President Marjorie Waldo has seen firsthand the positive impact of arts and culture. “Art and music really matter to a lot of people,” she says. “They bridge segments of a community. They bring people together in a common language that erases the things that divide us.”

Their absence has been palpable during the two months of the coronavirus pandemic and its shelter-in-place orders, as Arts Garage quickly joined the countless shuttered cultural nonprofits. As I learned in a conversation with Waldo this week, the Pineapple Grove venue is something of a microcosm for the crises faced by most performing-arts venues: taking one day at a time, rapidly adapting to virtual programming while facing nearly existential setbacks, only to receive sorely needed federal largesse in the nick of time, when second-round funding through the Paycheck Protection Program came through.

But even if Arts Garage is able to reopen even with 25- or 50-percent capacity in June—which is still undecided—the economic toll it has already borne has been seismic. Arts Garage has been forced to lay off 10 of its 24 employees and reduce others’ hours to part-time. “For me one of the biggest burdens as the leader of the organization is knowing the impact my decisions have on the people who work for us,” Waldo says. “You have to do what’s right for the organization, but it’s a harsh reality for the people who work for you.”

Starting March 15, Waldo and her skeleton crew have worked to reschedule high-season concerts to dates in 2021, a necessary move that will have an appreciable impact on revenues for at least a year. It makes sense: With tickets for this spring’s concerts carried over to new dates next January or February, the venue won’t be earning new ticket sales during those months. For these reasons and more, Waldo, like many of us, is eager to return to doing what she loves.

“We want to feel that we are reopening safety and carefully, and considering very much the well-being of our patrons,” she says. “If you combine all those things, it’s very tricky. We are hoping beyond hope that we can host a handful of performances soon, as we monitor the virus and the impact reopening has had on the community.”

One caveat is that if Florida’s government does begin to green-light limited-capacity concerts in June or July, there’s no guarantee enough attendees will show up to justify keeping the lights on. In a survey about reopening sent to 400 Arts Garage patrons, only 30 percent reported they’re be fully ready to attend concerts again. Waldo has been looking at new revenue streams to offset this loss, including the possibility of virtual live-streams of Arts Garage concerts for ticketholders who are not comfortable attending in person, but that presents its own logistical hurdles to overcome.

Despite all of these uncertainties, Arts Garage has been at the forefront of spreading positive vibes through its online platforms. Waldo and her team launched the “From our heARTs to your home” series, featuring local talent performing on its stages and streamed on YouTube, all of the performers donating their time.

“The generosity of our artists who came and presented their art form on the stage for us—the visual artists, dancers, comedians—blew my mind,” Waldo says. “We were so humbled by everyone’s willingness to come together. The best they got out of it was a video they could use to book future gigs. … I will find a way to book these artists, and pay them for their craft.”

A work by Juniper Moon from “Artists in Quarantine”

The venue’s Grassroots Gallery, while not yet technically open to the public, is also active, thanks to last week’s mounting of “Artists in Quarantine,” an exhibition of nine emerging artists whose painting, sculpture, photography and video work were all created while in lockdown.

The biggest silver lining for Arts Garage’s future may be that it has faced extinction-level events before—like the dark winter and spring of 2016, when a depleted cash flow left its future in jeopardy. It was up to the newly hired Waldo to restructure the operation, and that experience has been invaluable.

“The process we went through in the first two years when I was hired turned our organization around 180 degrees, so that when this occurred, we were in the best spot we’d been in since November of 2016,” she says. “One of the reasons we were in a position to hold on and pivot and do fun things for no cost, and create ideas for new revenue streams in these conditions, is this amazing board of directors that has brought so much passion and support from the community. The city and CRA are behind us 2,000 degrees. … We’re surrounded by a lot of magic all the time, and that’s why we’re OK for now.”

Arts Garage, 94 NE 2nd Ave, Delray Beach; artsgarage.com


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