A message from Allison Halstead Reid concerning plans for Dance and Arts Education classes: Summer and Fall 2020.
Dear VCA Dance and Arts Education Students and Families,
I wanted to reach out and share with you how we our navigating our educational programs this summer and fall and to assure you all that we are not eliminating or closing down these vital programs. Vashon Center for Dance and all the educational activities that the Blue Heron Education Center offers are critically important to our island community. As the daughter of an Arts Educator, I was taught the importance of the arts through music, dance, theater and the visual arts. I believe deeply that the benefits of the arts bring balance in a child’s academic, emotional, and artistic growth. This philosophy reinforces my daily commitment to VCA’s dance and arts education programs.
VCA’s staff and I are dedicated to keeping these opportunities alive even when the circumstances of the Covid-19 crisis forced us to make tough decisions. As you know, this pandemic has created a situation that has prevented us from operating at our full potential. The ‘Stay at Home’ orders in the spring kept us from offering any in-person classes and without operational program revenue we reduced staff and operational expenses to conserve and hold on – not knowing how long this crisis might last. The seesaw of uncertainty for re-opening and strict restrictions as to what was and was not allowed have presented many challenges. Even as we have reached Phase 2 the rules and advice from elected officials has morphed – staying apprised and informed has kept us on our toes daily.
The Dance and Arts Education programs will continue to operate alongside our school district. For years, we have built our class schedules around the school year calendar. We will continue to do so. With the school district decision to only offer online learning for the fall, we too will follow their lead. As a member of the VISD re-opening committee, I have attended many meetings to stay informed and offer VCA as a partner to support VISD’s efforts. Regular check-ins with superintendent Slade McSheehy have been informative and helpful as we make plans for our programs. It is an ongoing dialogue and we are eager to mirror and compliment their plans for the 2020-21 school year.
This summer, we were able to offer several outdoor camps in Arts Education and Dance with reduced capacity and strict safety guidelines in place. Demand for these camps has been significantly lower than past years, as one would expect with a pandemic. But it has allowed us to keep a foothold in providing dance and the arts to our island youth. As the school’s explore their options for outdoor learning opportunities, so will we. I know I speak for our staff when I say, we want to see children safely engaging in the arts so their talents continue to grow.
Some have asked why we are not operating within the dance studio and indoor spaces at the Blue Heron? Quite simply, we do not feel we can safely do so without improvements to our historic building. And of course, until the schools consider a return to indoor learning, we are not willing to take the risk. Some have asked us if we can open and operate like local gyms and athletic centers? Our non-profit business is not recognized as a gym or athletic center, nor is our facility outfitted as such. Even if we were, the growing number of positive Covid cases that are being linked to gyms and athletic clubs across the country is reason enough to pause.
Even with our indoor studio and classrooms closed, we are continuing to offer Dance and Arts Ed classes outdoors with limited capacity. Obviously, if we see a return to Phase 1, that will change. For now, we may only be operating at 25% of our pre-Covid capability, but we are doing what we can to stay engaged.
I also want to share with you that we have been busy writing grants to support our Blue Heron programs. We are waiting to hear if we will be awarded grant funds to upgrade our HVAC system in the Blue Heron building that would create better air filtration and circulation for indoor use. These improvements would provide a measure of reassurance should we reach Phase 3 and look to bring classes back inside, but we are also working to add more outdoor tents and shelters in the event that our classes and instruction must remain outdoors for the time being.
Through it all, we remain hopeful. The recent grant award we received from The National Endowment for the Arts has allowed us to bring back Wendy Finkleman, our Director of Arts Education, who is eagerly working to plan outdoor camps and online offerings for the fall. Crissy Baker, our Associate Director of Dance and Registrar, has continued supporting the Arts Ed and Dance program in her administrative efforts and to keep many of our dance offerings alive – coordinating outdoor classes on our temporary dance stage and exploring video dance projects to share the talents of our Original Works choreographers. Although our Blue Heron staff was reduced in June, I want to assure you that we are fully committed to keeping these programs alive.
VCA has had the good fortune of developing new partnerships with professional dance companies like Seattle Dance Collective and Whim W’Him. I have spent many hours talking with their leadership over the past several months to gain insights and discuss how the dance world is adapting to this new world of social distancing, safety guidelines and mask wearing. The innovation that is coming forth is remarkable and I am hopeful this fall that we will see these partnerships and dancers included in our offerings and experiences at VCA. Whether it is a Master Class, Introductory Workshop, or a Zoom Q&A with a professional world-class dancer, I want our island dancers to have opportunities to engage with real-life professionals who have reached the pinnacle of their careers. What better opportunity to inspire young dancers!
All of us at VCA will continue to pivot and adapt through this crisis and with a keen eye on making sure we can effectively provide learning opportunities that are safe for our students, our staff, and our guests.
As a parent, I understand the frustration many have experienced since March with school closures, online learning not meeting every child’s needs, and a lack of extracurricular resources. Sadly, it is not fair to our children. As a community, we must protect and hold safe everyone. I too am worried that if we do not curb the spread of Covid-19, we may find ourselves continuing in this state of ‘limbo’ well into 2021. I worry, like many of you, that less exposure to the arts will undoubtedly have adverse effects on our children.
We will continue to keep dancing, drawing, and pivoting through this crisis as best we can. We have to. Our Blue Heron families are our own families too – we care greatly for our students and cannot wait to a full return of our programs. We will continue to reach out through our newsletters to share with you all that we are doing at VCA and in the Blue Heron Education Center.
Thank you for your time in reading this update today. I welcome your feedback and suggestions, and I am grateful for those of you who have expressed your ideas and shared your frustrations with me. We can and will get through this together.
Stay safe and be well,
Allison Halstead Reid
Executive Director, Vashon Center for the Arts