Coping with COVID: updates for Fresno-area arts organizations

Editor’s note: This article accompanies The Munro Review’s larger piece on “Arts in the Age of COVID.” While that article is more impressionistic and looser in its approach, this one is more about the fundamentals. It will be updated as needed. If I missed your organization and would like to be included, email me at Also: Most of these organizations could use your financial help. Donation information is available on their websites.

The current state of the arts:


Pre-pandemic plans: The 2020 Annual Summer Opera Arts and Education Festival, a three-week event presented by California Opera, was slated to be performed in July.

Current plans: “COA is still in a holding pattern due to the government restrictions,” says Edna Garabedian, the opera’s artistic director. The company is continuing to rehearse with independent FaceTime training and Zoom rehearsals.


Pre-pandemic plans: The company had a full summer lineup planned, including productions of “Les Miserables School Edition” and “Aladdin, Jr.”

Current plans: Children’s Musical Theaterworks is offering a scaled-down version of summer youth acting classes, with possible culminating performances for select audiences. A full-scale production of the musical “Matilda” is still on the books to open Dec. 4, but executive director Judy Stene isn’t sure if that’s going to happen.


Financial outlook: The company got lucky by not scheduling a spring musical, which would have been canceled because of the pandemic, so it didn’t lose the upfront costs on that. “We’re surviving,” Stene says. “I don’t know how long we can survive, but right now, survival is what’s important, and we’re doing that, so we’ll just take one day at a time.”

Looking ahead: “My mindset is doing whatever little things we can do to keep hope alive,” she says. “It sounds kind of trite, but to me, it’s what we have to do as individuals and a society. Because it’s damn depressing. I live alone. I’m really happy that I’ve held onto my sanity, at this point.”

Special report: Fresno-area groups struggle with uncertainty and financial hardships, but the will to survive is strong


Pre-pandemic plans: A new slate of summer exhibitions at the Fresno Art Museum had been scheduled to open in late July, including exhibitions on Kim Abeles (the museum’s Council of 100 Distinguished Woman Artist for the year) and painter Nathan Oliveira.

Current plans: An expanded version of an exhibition highlighting women artists from the museum’s permanent collection will open in late August with full social-distancing protocols, though the date is still tentative. Three other exhibitions that were running when the museum was forced to close will be extended. The exhibitions will run for four months instead of six. No opening reception will be held, but the museum hopes to hold a closing reception for the show in January. The Abeles and Oliveira exhibitions have been postponed.

Financial outlook: An unexpected bequest from the estate of Donald Gumz received in January helped stabilize the museum’s finances by allowing it to clear its accounts payable and provide a healthy cash flow halfway through the fiscal year. In addition, the museum received funding from the government’s Payroll Protection Program. However, the museum lost about $110,000 in revenue over the last two months because of the postponement of Trashique (a premier fundraiser) and Mother’s Day events. Continued cost cutting is keeping the fiscal situation lean. Michele Ellis Pracy, executive director and chief curator, hasn’t had to appeal to her major donors for emergency funding yet, which she’s grateful for, because she knows that many of them are hurting financially themselves. “I didn’t want to ask them until they feel they’ve weathered the storm,” she says.

Looking ahead: “By January, I hope that everything is settled into a new normal,” Ellis Pracy says.

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Pre-pandemic plans: The orchestra is usually dark during the summer as it prepares for a fall opening. If all had gone according to plan, the first Fresno Philharmonic Masterworks concert would have been in late September.

Current plans: “There will be no major concert events for the remainder of 2020,” says Stephen Wilson, executive director and CEO of the orchestra. The orchestra has had a strong digital presence already this summer with virtual performances, Facebook showcases and Zoom interviews, and it will continue to explore alternative ways to keep connected with the public. “We’re going to be reaching patrons in new ways.”

Financial outlook: The orchestra was able to pay both its staff and contracted musicians by securing a PPP loan/grant. Donations (including ticket holders donating their tickets for postponed and canceled events) have remained steady, Wilson says, and a recent fundraising campaign did well.

Looking ahead: “We’re anticipating we will be able to get back into live performance by February 2021, if conditions allow,” he says.


Pre-pandemic plans: The Fresno Community Chorus organization would have offered a robust 2020-21 season that included concerts from its two performing ensembles, the Master Chorale and Coro Solare), plus a joint performance with the Fresno Philharmonic.

Current plans: “I can’t tell you when we are performing again,” says music director Anna Hamre. “I can tell you that we have a scenario written out that allows for a lot of flexibility. Until then, the biggest challenge for us is keeping our choir intact, keeping everybody engaged and keeping everybody motivated, so that when we get through this, we can all be together again.”

Looking ahead: The Master Chorale’s March 29 concert “Finding Refuge,” with the theme of homelessness, is officially postponed, not canceled, but Hamre isn’t sure she’d want to lead off a post-pandemic season with such a heavy theme. Likely look for something more joyful instead.


Pre-pandemic plans: Tom Stoddard’s “Darkside” is slated to open Oct 2. The rest of the season lineup is “Detroit ‘67” (a holdover from last season, now opening Oct. 30); “Dracula” (Dec. 4); Contemporary Dance Ensemble (Feb. 12); “Electricidad” (March 19); “Spring Awakening” (April 30).

Current plans: The Fresno State Department of Theatre and Dance is awaiting final word about the face-to-face proposals for Fall 2020 made to the university and California State University Chancellor’s Office. “If we are given the face-to-face option, we are going to rehearse shows and then record them for streaming purposes,” says department chair J. Daniel Herring. “I hope to have final word this coming week. I don’t foresee any live audiences unless something changes with the guidelines for public events. If we are not given permission for face-to-face rehearsals/recordings then we will be working on a completely virtual version for the Fall 2020 shows.”

Looking ahead: The university hopes to have some type of live performances in Spring 2021, probably with reduced audience sizes. “As you are aware, all of what I just said could change tomorrow,” Herring says.


Pre-pandemic plans: “The King and I” would have finished its two-month run for Good Company Players at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater by May 17; “Freaky Friday” would be playing through July 12, with “Guys and Dolls” on the horizon. At the 2nd Space Theatre, “This Random World” would have been ending its two-month run on June 14, with “Living on Love” opening June 19.

Current plans: Rehearsals for “King and I” and “This Random World” are continuing (via Zoom). “We are hopeful for the opening of ‘King and I,’ and perhaps a shortened run of ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Elf,’ “ says managing director Dan Pessano. “This Random World” will be the first title presented at 2nd Space. There also are hopes for a benefit performance of “Love Letters” at the 2nd Space.

Financial outlook: A PPP loan from the feds meant that payroll could be met. (Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, meanwhile, opted to use the Employee Retention Credit and was approved for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.) A GoFundMe campaign (which as of June 20 had raised $21,279 for both businesses) is a help. With 25 full- and part-time employees, GCP is a bigger operation than you might think. “It’s difficult because we have a threshold of what we need to do to make a profit, says creative director Laurie Pessano. “We can’t do that right now. But we can sustain a loss for a while.”

Looking ahead: cause for optimism. “We’re scrappy,” Dan Pessano says. “We’ve been through tough times before. We’ll survive. If six months gets us through the holidays and we’re doing holiday shows, then I think we’ll be on firm ground.”


On the June 2020 episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC,” I talked with leaders of Good Company Players, the Fresno Philharmonic, the Fresno Art Museum, Children’s Musical Theaterworks, the Selma Arts Center and Fresno Master Chorale. Will the arts survive?


Pre-pandemic plans: A full, eight-concert season (plus several special-event concerts) had been planned for the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series 2020-21 season at Fresno State, starting with Anne-Marie McDermott on Sept. 8. That’s all out the window. “No one is going to play in September anywhere,” says Andreas Werz, the artistic director.

Current plans: Werz hopes for at least a truncated season starting in March or April.

Financial outlook: The series has a small reserve, and it could survive the cancellation of the entire season, but it would still be pretty bleak.

Looking ahead: Using social distancing at a solo piano event is much less problematic than hosting a full orchestra. Some festivals in Werz’s native Germany are experimenting with “divided concerts” in which half the audience comes at 5 p.m., say, and the same artist plays again at 8.


Pre-pandemic plans: The Lively Arts Foundation had planned to present a “major contemporary ballet company with a wonderful rep” for October, says Lively Arts artistic director Diane Mosier. That engagement was canceled.

Current plans: Mosier hopes to bring Diablo Ballet, which had been set to play in April 2020 at the Tower Theatre, to Fresno in March 2021. She says at this point that professional companies are considering dates next spring, but nothing is for certain. Lively Arts will decide soon whether to present its annual December production of “The Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre. With more than 100 cast members and so much body contact between performers, big dance concerts such as “Nutcracker” could be problematic, Mosier says.

Financial outlook: The organization is stable, though it did lose money advertising for Drum Tao and Diablo Ballet, the spring 2020 engagements that were canceled.

Looking ahead: “The arts are down but not out,” Mosier says. “Many shows will be scheduled for Spring 2021. What remains to be seen: how many patrons will be comfortable attending.”


Pre-pandemic plans: Selma Arts Center got in one production in its 2020 season (“Puffs”) before having to shut down. It had a full lineup planned throughout the summer and fall, including “Head Over Heels,” “Hair” and “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Current plans: Maybe, just maybe, the final scheduled production of the season, “Zoot Suit,” will be able to go on as planned with a Nov. 20 opening. In the meantime, the company is holding Zoom cast reunions and offering Zoom theater classes to the public. The rest of the truncated 2020 season will likely become the 2021 lineup.

Financial outlook: It’s been tough, says Juan Luis Guzman, vice president of the Selma Arts Council. But because of the strong support of the city of Selma, there’s a bit of a financial cushion.

Looking ahead: “Sure, we’re bruised and battered,” Guzman says. “I think some organizations are going to have a more difficult time of getting out of this hole than others. But I know this is a community that bands together and stands together. Who knows what the next great renaissance can be on the other side of this. I’m very optimistic in the power of art and the power of artists coming together.”


Pre-pandemic plans: After postponing several spring performances, Soli Deo Gloria had hoped to perform its originally scheduled “Mozart and More” concert in the fall.

Current plans: “We will only give a concert if state and county guidelines allow,” says artistic director Julie Carter.

Financial outlook: “We certainly will miss ticket sales for two concerts,” Carter says. “However, I can say that we don’t survive on ticket sales alone. We have sponsors to assist us. It’s not a great situation, but SDG will survive.”

Looking ahead: “Will singers be safe to gather and sing together? Without a vaccine I’m not sure they can. I would be horrified if we rehearsed and someone got COVID-19 and became ill or (worse) died.”


Pre-pandemic plans: The final concert of the season for The Tower Quartet was slated for March, and the group had a fundraiser pops concert planned for June. There were plans to kick off a new chamber music program for students where quartet members would coach young quartets. The group also had plans to study with Richard Young of the Vermeer Quartet and the St. Lawrence String Quartet over the summer.

Current plans: “We’re currently still working remotely from our separate homes to create short video recordings for our audiences,” says quartet member Lianna Elmore. “Look out for some Haydn soon.”

Financial outlook: “We’ve only had two seasons so far so we haven’t seen much profit from our work yet,” she adds. “What we make comes from donations and usually goes right back into the quartet through expenses like sheet music, travel, and festival/coaching fees. We’re hoping to become a non-profit soon so we can attract more patrons and possibly apply for grants.That would enable us to finally be paid for our work and dedicate more time to the quartet. In the meantime we’ve set up a Cash App account if people would like to donate.” (The account is $towerquartet.)

Looking ahead: The players’ hope is to see the COVID numbers drop enough to feel safe to start meeting in person (with masks) to rehearse. “We’ve discussed the possibility of performing a concert in Fall 2020 that can be live streamed to a remote audience,” Elmore says. “We’re also collaborating with Fresno State professor Dr. Bryce Cannell, who is currently working on a commission for our quartet.”


Pre-pandemic plans: A busy summer would have been in store with the group’s signature FOOSA festival — an international event that culminates in a performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Also on the agenda would be a full fall seasons for the organizations youth ensembles.

Current plans: There are no plans for in-person programming of any kind for the indefinite future. “We rent rehearsal space from Fresno State, and Fresno State is not making that space available to outside groups during the coming school year, so we have been spared that agonizing decision,” says executive director Julia Copeland. The organization’s Sunday evening rehearsals have continued virtually. “Instead of pulling back we pushed the pedal to the floor, bringing in guest artists, offering sight-reading sessions, providing sectional rehearsals, and just in general exploring the unexpected opportunities offered by online platforms.

Looking ahead: Copeland promises a comprehensive video project and more virtual programming in the fall. “We are a fleet, flexible organization, able to turn on a dime, and willing to embrace change and new opportunities whenever and wherever they present themselves,” she says. “Additionally, we see this moment of slowdown as an opportunity to dream in new directions, particularly in directions that allow us to focus even more intently on our core mission of access and inclusion.”

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Gerald Palladino

    Thank you, Donald, for this update. Waiting for the arts to return to Fresno and the Valley. The virtual presentations continue to be wonderful, but there’s still nothing to compare to live performances and being there. Wishing for this reality to be soon.


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