Centrum suspends in-person programs for summer season

Virtual programs the goal for this summer

Posted 4/1/20

Another sign the local community is unlikely to get back to business as usual anytime soon came when Rob Birman, executive director of Centrum at Fort Worden State Park, announced April 1 that …

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Centrum suspends in-person programs for summer season

Virtual programs the goal for this summer


Another sign the local community is unlikely to get back to business as usual anytime soon came when Rob Birman, executive director of Centrum at Fort Worden State Park, announced April 1 that Centrum’s traditional programming for this summer has been postponed and rescheduled to next year.

This decision affects all Centrum workshops, including Voice Works, Fiddle Tunes, the Port Townsend Writers Conference, Jazz Port Townsend and the Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival, the latter of which was due to end on Aug. 2.

“The coronavirus pandemic and its profound economic impacts were central considerations in our decision, affirmed by both the senior staff team and Centrum’s board of directors this week,” Birman said. “We feel deeply for the artists who are overwhelmingly impacted by the current health crisis in the United States.”

Birman also cited the thousands of guests who visit Centrum each summer as both audience members and workshop participants, whom he described as “part of a multifaceted support system that allows many of the world’s finest teaching artists and cultural standard bearers to share their traditions” in Port Townsend.

“The anticipated peak of the virus will occur at the same time that we rely on registrations and ticket sales,” Birman said. “We simply can’t, in good faith, ask our stakeholders to commit to gathering in such large numbers at this time. As leaders in the Washington arts community, it is imperative to lead through our actions. We support Washington state’s decisive leadership on this issue. We are putting the public interest ahead of our own.”

In the meantime, Birman reported Centrum is collaborating with partners at the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, Washington State Parks, the Washington Department of Health  and Jefferson County Public Health to coordinate their responses to the pandemic.

Birman further anticipates new locally driven partnerships will emerge once Centrum’s programming can be restarted, and pledged that Centrum “is committed to attempt” to present some form of programming at Fort Worden this summer, if conditions permit.

“We are examining alternative program options that can be implemented on short notice, with a focus on providing art and cultural experiences to audiences in our region, as well as support services and residencies for working regional artists,” Birman said.

Such program announcements will be shared online at centrum.org.

Workshop participants have been offered the option of either shifting their reservations to next summer, donating portions of their registrations to Centrum or receiving full refunds.

Centrum’s Communiversity arts and lecture series will continue without interruption, with lectures running online until public gatherings are advisable.

The next Communiversity installment is slated for Monday, April 13, at 5:30 p.m. with Robyn Bailey, head of citizen science for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Ticket-holders will be provided login credentials to join the event via Zoom.

Centrum’s spring and summer chamber music performances with the Miro Quartet and Callisto Trio have already been rescheduled for dates this fall and winter, and tickets for those events will be honored on their new dates. Centrum’s Choro workshop and concerts have also been rescheduled for next year, and ticket holders are being refunded.

Centrum has also placed 40% of its administrative staff and production crew on standby in response to this situation, and Birman anticipates further workforce reductions in May, once immediate responses are handled to accommodate its existing participants.

Birman explained the Centrum organization is retaining only essential personnel on its payroll during the interim to allow it to plan and implement alternative programming as soon as possible.

Of the two spring workshops that were scheduled for April and May — Choro and Red Hot Strings — 45% of participants have opted to shift their registrations to 2021, while an additional 28% have elected to donate some or all of their registration fees to support the organization; 27% have asked for full refunds.

For more information from Centrum itself, visit centrum.org or call 360-385-3102.



While members of the surrounding arts scene and local business community each offered their own takes on this news, the consensus was that this does not represent an especially positive development.

“The situation for independent musicians is pretty dire any way you look at it,” said Matt Miner, music performance manager for Northwind Arts Center. “There are no public gigs, so no paychecks other than the little that can be made from online performances. I’m sure a lot of performers depend on Centrum for part of their summer income. While this might create a vacuum to be filled by other events, the same factors causing Centrum’s cancellation are part of everyone else’s planning, too.”

Miner sees audiences, artists and hosting venues taking things “week by week, month by month” at this point, and regardless of whether it’s eventually declared safe, he anticipates it will take “a long time to get people comfortable gathering in concert-style settings again.”

Everett Moran, owner and engineer of Rainshadow Recording, has been looking further ahead, communicating with Birman on “how we might co-op on concerts at the fort this summer,” should the pandemic subside by then.

“I would want to focus on performers who might have been scheduled to teach or perform at the canceled festivals,” Moran said. “I’m a bit more optimistic that once it’s considered safe, our community will be more than ready to come out to performances and exhibits.”

That said, Moran acknowledged the current shutdowns could stretch well into the summer months, in which case, he’s preparing for online and streamed performances as the only safe platform for artistic presentations during that time.

Mari Mullen, executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program, described Centrum’s announcement as “hard news to hear,” due not only to its impact on Centrum, its staff, artists and audiences, but also because of the toll she expects it will take on hotel owners, retailers and restaurateurs who get “a great boost” from Centrum’s programming.

“We admire Rob Birman and his staff, and appreciate what a difficult decision this must be,” Mullen said. “We are all living in a world of uncertainty, which makes it so hard to plan ahead. This pandemic has affected all our citizens, businesses, nonprofits and our city, and it is re-arranging our lives.”

Through its website and social media, the Port Townsend Main Street Program has shared some creative ways businesses and nonprofits are still reaching out to customers within these social-distancing restrictions.

“We have also been doing outreach to share the many resources that are available for businesses and employees, to help them get through this crisis,” Mullen said. “Remember to check in with your family, friends and neighbors virtually, and let them know you care and are thinking about them. The more we follow social distancing guidelines and stay apart, the sooner we can beat COVID-19 and ultimately get together.”

Mullen referred the public to the resource links at ptmainstreet.org.

Brian Kuh, executive director of EDC Team Jefferson, echoed Mullen’s assessment of the difficulty of Centrum’s decision and the likely “significant” economic impact to the community.

“Centrum events have historically brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for ancillary businesses such as restaurants, hotels and the like,” Kuh said. “They will collectively feel the impact of the canceled summer season, as will the many people whom they employ.”

Kuh pledged that EDC Team Jefferson would remain “accessible and ready to help” any business or entrepreneur affected by Centrum’s canceled summer or the COVID-19 crisis as a whole, “so we encourage them to reach out.”

You can email support inquiries to help@edcteamjefferson.org.

Arlene Alen, executive director for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, deemed Centrum “a major driver for multi-night cultural tourism in our community, with a world-recognized and valued reputation.”

As such, Alen agreed with Kuh and Mullen that the season’s cancellation would affect the community “across multiple segments from accommodations,” and while she agreed it was a difficult decision, she also regards it as necessary, given how many local organizations and businesses struggle “with the same challenges and needs to reinvent their events and business models.”

Alen noted the chamber is working with businesses in the county to connect them to the resources they need.

You can contact the chamber by visiting jeffcountychamber.org or emailing director@jeffcountychamber.org.


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