Vashon Center for the Arts Announces Staff Reductions Due to COVID-19 Impact on the Arts
Vashon, WA – It has been three months since Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA) postponed and/or cancelled most of its spring programming schedule in response to the emerging Covid-19 health crisis. This necessary decision drastically affected VCA’s performing arts events in The Kay White Hall, the Arts Education and Dance programs in the Blue Heron Education Center, and upcoming visual art exhibits in the VCA Gallery. With the island’s public-school closures, many of VCA’s Vashon Artists in Schools residencies for enriching students’ exposure to arts education were also cancelled. With such dramatic losses in earned revenue, and in light of a quickly changing landscape, VCA’s Executive Director, Allison Halstead Reid, and Board of Trustees, took the difficult but proactive step to position the organization for sustainability.
Immediately following the closure of VCA’s doors in March, Executive Director Reid, along with key staff, revised the 2020 operating budget. The Board of Trustees approved her recommendation to reduce the $2.4M operating budget down to $1.8M, which included the inevitable but unfortunate lay off of 50 percent of the staff.
In April, with the passing of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act), VCA applied for and received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) assistance through the Small Business Administration (SBA) to temporarily reinstate employees who were let go. To ensure the SBA loan is fully forgivable, the majority of the funds have been used for payroll to retain staff, who returned to explore and design new ways to engage the community in the arts.
An Online Gallery was launched to offset the closure of VCA’s physical gallery spaces, which will allow the art center to continue to promote and sell the works of visual artists. The SBA funds also provided VCA with the opportunity to create the infrastructure for ongoing Livestream events through the center’s website and social media platforms. The Blue Heron Education Center staff who lead the Arts Education, dance and Artists in Schools programs have begun building online educational offerings and training instructors in anticipation that the Covid-19 crisis may last longer than previously expected. VCA has pivoted across all programs to actively engage with artists, performers, instructors, audience members, students, and the island community.
In addition to launching new content, VCA created the Resilience Fund to help offset losses in programming revenue, maintain a core administrative staff, and assist with ongoing operating costs. Supporters have helped raise over $70,000 through direct donations and by purchasing ticket passes for future events in the Kay White Hall.
“The Resilience Fund will be our number one fundraising focus as long as the crisis continues to impact our programming. Until our operations can ramp back up, we will need to rely heavily on the generosity of our community.”
— John de Groen, VCA Board Chair
Regretfully, the SBA requirements at the time VCA’s loan was approved stated that the funds had to be used over an 8-week period. On June 11, 2020, VCA’s 8-week period will come to an end, and those funds will be depleted. With revenue losses mounting and government restrictions preventing a full re-opening of the arts center campus, VCA’s board of directors has approved another significant reduction in our operating budget to $1.3M – a 57% decrease from the start of 2020. As a result, VCA will lay off more than half of its staff and reduce hours on several remaining positions.
In May, VCA conducted a concise survey of constituents to understand their comfort level and safety concerns in anticipation of statewide restrictions slowly being lifted. These factors have led VCA’s leadership to conclude that the multifaceted arts programming will continue to be impacted through the end of this year.
“The survey responses were clear. Islanders may feel comfortable walking through our gallery during Phase 2, but attending an event in our auditorium or enrolling their students in classroom programs is a harder decision. Their health and safety are critically important, and we must listen and respond accordingly.” —Allison Halstead Reid, VCA Executive Director
As a nonprofit arts organization, VCA is not facing these decisions alone. Many arts centers are pre-emptively choosing to postpone educational camps and classroom offerings for the summer, and event venues have shuttered their stages until 2021. The cost of maintaining these programs without earned income is too great a risk amid a Covid-19 timeline that continues to expand. Without programs operating fully, VCA is unable to employ its entire staff.
On June 12, VCA will say goodbye to many of our wonderful team members, some of whom have been with us for many years, and scale back to a much leaner model. Four full-time and six part-time staff members will remain. Positions affected by the layoffs include: Associate Executive Director, Arts Ed Program Director, Dance Director, VAIS Program Manager, Technical Director, Arts Education Assistant, Production Assistant, Development Communications Director, Marketing Coordinator, Bookkeeper, Database Manager, and Assistant House Manager.
“The departure of more than half our staff is a loss that cannot be overstated. Our team is the heart and soul of our programming and mission. VCA has been so fortunate to have the dedication and loyalty of each and every one of our employees. It is my sincerest hope that our resilience during this crisis will re-unite us all in the future, stronger than before.” — Allison Halstead Reid
VCA will continue offering online learning opportunities through the Blue Heron Education Center, and staff are working with arts instructors to help them transition smoothly to the virtual world. In addition, students can expect to see private instructions offered in the coming weeks that will allow us to rehire staff as hourly instructors. Live streaming events, like our Talks on the Rock series and musical concerts, will continue in The Kay every month. We are grateful that several full-time staff members rolling off have agreed to work hourly on an ‘as needed’ basis to assist with the technical responsibilities of our live stream events. VCA’s Gallery will also continue to show new exhibits online until Phase 2 allows us to re-open for visitors.
VCA is eager to get back to the work at hand – bringing the arts to our community. The health and safety of the center’s staff and patrons is of utmost priority, and plans are already in place to ensure each visitor is protected. Health and safety guidelines along with social distancing practices will be in place throughout the campus when the doors open again.
About Vashon Center for the Arts
Vashon Center for the Arts, a collaborative and community-based organization, provides a center for the arts on Vashon Island, initiates quality arts experiences for all ages and creates opportunities for artists to perform and exhibit their work.
For more than 50 years Vashon Allied Arts, and now Vashon Center for the Arts, has been a foundation stone for Vashon island’s art and cultural scene. Since that time, the organization has grown in every possible way to become the largest non-profit on Vashon and home to five uniquely different program areas: Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Arts Education, Dance, and Vashon Artists in Schools. We are part of the greater Vashon artistic spirit, committed to the idea that Art is a necessary part of our present and our future, where Art, in all forms, leads us back to our humanity, to rediscovering our sense of joy and play, to laying full claim to our inner artist, to healing the world.