Going dark

Tab Benoit gets the blues going at the Harris Center on Nov 5. (Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson)

Harris Center announces it is closing temporarily due to COVID-19 uncertainty. Could other arts venues follow?

Performing arts venues across the Sacramento region are trying to figure out how they can reopen while still making the finances work in our COVID-19 age of social distancing.

The Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom is the first significant one to decide it can’t.

The center announced Thursday that it will close July 1 for at least a year but hopes to reopen as soon as possible. Officials cited guidance from government officials and health experts and the uncertainty on when indoor public events can safely resume.

“The safety of our patrons, artists, volunteers, and staff remains our highest concern,” Harris Center Executive Director Dave Pier, Folsom Lake College President Whitney Yamamura and Los Rios Community College District Chancellor Brian King said in a joint statement.

“Our venue is smaller than others in our region and the budgetary impacts of this crisis have been severe, making it challenging to sustain operations and implement social distancing protocols in the current environment.”

It had hosted 400 events a year, drawing 150,000 people. The center, built and run by the Los Rios Community College District on the Folsom Lake College campus, opened in 2011.

Once the pandemic hit, the center issued a series of cancellations, ending with one on April 23. In all, 135 events had already been canceled.

The center says that all remaining scheduled events have been canceled and ticket refunds will be issued automatically.

“These are challenging times, and we appreciate the patience and understanding of everyone in the Harris Center community as we work to address and respond to these circumstances beyond our control,” the statement said. “We are looking forward to the day when we can see you in our audience once again.”

While the Harris Center is the first major arts venue in the Sacramento region to take such a drastic step, it may not be the last.

The Mondavi Center at UC Davis is selling subscriptions starting July 6 for a 2020-21 season that is about 70% of normal and doesn’t start until Jan. 14.

“Our primary concern is to ensure the health and well-being of our patrons and we assure you that we will continue to monitor and follow all recommended public health guidelines,” the center says.

In Sacramento, the newly renovated Community Center Theater (now the Safe Credit Union Performing Arts Center) is scheduled to open late this year and early next year. It hosts Broadway Sacramento, which has yet to announce its new season, other than Come From Away rescheduled from last month to June 29-July 4. The theater is also home to the Sacramento Ballet, which hasn’t announced its new season, and other major events.

City officials and local arts leaders are discussing how to safely put on performances. Patrons may have their temperatures taken and be required to enter and exit in smaller groups.

But officials say that reducing seating capacity to keep at least six feet between theatergoers wouldn’t work because ticket revenue wouldn’t cover production costs.

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