Bringing back the arts safely

A look at how four organizations are adapting their operations and programming to COVID-19 restrictions to keep staff and guests safe

A look inside the E.A. Rawlinson theatre (Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)

Editor’s note: arts organizations were some of the last businesses allowed to re-open under the provincial plan after everything shut down in March. As we watched some misinformation spread about a handful of Prince Albert arts events on Facebook, we tasked Kelly Skjerven to find out what organizations have been doing as they adapt to a new reality.

E.A. Rawlinson

Staff at E.A. Rawlinson have done a lot of research into how to operate “effectively and efficiently but also safely,” says general manager Roxanne Dicke.

During shows, audience members enter the theatre on the east side of the theatre and exit on the west side. Seating is also physically distanced with every other row blocked off as a “cross-over” row and some seats have been removed.

“So you never have to walk directly in front of someone, you can go to the row down and then step up into your seat into your seat without ever having to be in close proximity to another patron,” said Dicke.

The theatre can seat 606 guests, however with physical distancing measures in place it can hold a maximum of 150 audience members.

When patrons are purchasing a ticket or tickets to a show the three seats on either side of them are not sold allowing for physical distancing between groups.

The provincial government doesn’t recommend intermission and Dicke says only one show this month had to have one due to its format. Rows are asked to take intermission at staggered times to keep people spaced out in the foyer. Stanchions are also set up to keep people distanced while in line for the bar.

When guests are travelling throughout the theatre they must wear a mask but once they get to their seats they can take off their mask if they want to. Dicke says the route around the building is marked with arrows and there are extra volunteers to ensure everyone is following guidelines and travelling in the right direction.

The EA Rawlinson also encourages people buy their tickets online or call the box office ahead of time to avoid line-ups before shows. Tickets can also be emailed to audience members and scanned on paper or phones at the door. Square technology has also been set up at the bar for contactless payment.

As for protocols for staff, technicians are required to wear face masks when they greet performers. Only performers are in the green room, which is disinfected. Each performer also has their own designated microphone that has also been sanitized. Performers are spread out on the stage “as much as possible,” according to Dicke.

Dicke says that groups that do rehearse and perform together are in their own bubble. Larger groups are spread out on the stage. She said performers never come within approximately 20 ft of the first row of the audience.

“Our goal is to be able to be open in a very safe way and we take that very seriously because we want to succeed in our industry but most importantly we want to keep our community safe.”

Mann Art Gallery

The Mann Art Gallery has also had to adapt their programming.

Gallery educator, Lana Wilson says she has been offering virtual tours and programs to classrooms.

Recently Wilson joined a class via Zoom and carried her laptop around the gallery giving a tour and answering student’s questions about the exhibit. Activity papers were also prepared beforehand and provided to students to complete at their desks.

Wilson said gallery staff also have to keep in mind what materials teachers will have available for students.

“We’re very sensitive to the fact that multiple years of education cuts has especially harmed arts programs and we know that teachers are having difficulty affording art materials in the classrooms,” Wilson said.

One assignment had students glue lyrics to a photo to create their own poetry or statements, mirroring an exhibit at the gallery by Cheryl L’Hirondelle. The only additional materials required were glue sticks and scissors.

“That turned out to be a cost efficient and conceptually high quality activity so when we design the programs we have to be sensitive to all of those aspects,” said Wilson

Acting gallery educator, Danielle Castle said all kits that go out to schools require a standard hold time of 72 hours to prevent risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Castle started putting art kits together over the summer for virtual art camps. Both Castle and Wilson said a lot of parents enjoyed watching their kids engage in the activities.

“It’s a way to engage people in a safe way, so even as I’m making the kits my mask is always on and I’m constantly sanitizing my hands, it’s just the extra precautions that we all want to take,” Castle said.

Castle recently put together art kits for both children and adults, featuring re-produced pictures from Leah Dorian’s colouring book. Art kits available for adults includes high quality paint whereas the children art kits includes modelling clay.

Wilson says a home school group visited the gallery recently and she anticipates more remote learning groups will visit in the future.

Gallery protocols for other visitors

Wilson said visitors that come into the gallery are asked if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or if they have close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms of the virus. If visitors answer yes to the questions they are asked to stay home. Visitors are also asked to write their name and phone number down in a guestbook for contact tracing purposes.

The gallery recommends visitors wear masks and they have disposable masks on hand if anyone needs them. Visitors are also asked to sanitize their hands.

One exhibit in the gallery allows visitors to pick up a telephone and listen to songs sung by incarcerated women. After guests are done, staff disinfect the phone and tablet.

There are limits to how many people can be in the gallery space. Only one visitor is allowed to be in the gift shop and there is plexiglass covering the reception desk.

Some exhibits had to be altered for the pandemic. One exhibit was designed to include a pair of virtual reality visors that visitors could put on to view videos produced by L’Hirondelle. Instead, funding from the gallery and Common Weal was used to purchase cardboard virtual reality goggles. The goggles are given away for free to households, where they can scan a QR code and place their phone into the visor to view the video.

“It’s like taking a piece of the exhibition home with them, so that was really a fantastic innovation on Cheryl’s part to make her art more accessible and safe at this time,” said Wilson.

Castle said she’s doing more pre-planning when it comes to organizing programming during the pandemic.

“When I’m setting up for an in person activity I need to know who’s in each others bubble. So if there’s a family of three coming they can all sit at one table but if there’s just one person they’ll sit at the one table,” said Castle “information we wouldn’t typically need before we do need.”

Both Wilson and Castle encouraged people who are unsure about visiting the gallery to call ahead to learn more about safety measures.

An activity that is a part of the Cheryl L’Hirondelle exhibit. (Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)
An activity in the children’s art kit. (Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert Arts Centre

The Prince Albert Arts Centre is running some programs in person and some programs virtually.

“There are some people who are ready to come back and that really like the social aspect and everything so we’re trying to accommodate them and then there’s also some people who aren’t ready to come back or are immunocompromised so we want to make sure they still can access some of our program so that’s why we’re offering both options,” said Kayanna Wirtz, arts and culture programmer at the centre.

Wirtz said all class sizes are smaller to ensure everyone is distanced. There are stickers on the floor so everyone knows where to sit.

Chairs have been removed from the pottery studio to give everyone space to work while maintaining safe distance. Shared class spaces are also disinfected between each group, according to Wirtz.

Masks are recommended for spaces that are smaller in the arts centre.

“(Masks are recommended) especially in the pottery studio because it’s quite cramped down there so we recommend them if you’re going to be down there but lots of other spaces there’s lots of space to adequately distance so we say keep your distance, and if you can’t keep your distance then yes wear a mask,” said Wirtz.

People in higher level classes usually bring their own tools but for classes that share tools such as the pottery studio, items are disinfected by staff between groups. Class times are also staggered to allow staff time to disinfect the space, said Wirtz. People renting spaces are also asked to disinfect the rooms after use.

Wirtz said some schools have picked up clay from the arts centre and are bringing pottery back to be fired in the pottery studio. She said the centre can also help schools facilitate activities.

“If there’s schools that can’t make it here but want to do something at their school we can help them out.”

At the moment 18 people is the most the centre can accommodate in the upstairs studio and that’s with physical distancing in place.

There are also virtual programs offered, such as cooking or paint-along classes.

For virtual painting classes, a kit with all necessary supplies is assembled by staff and available for pick up for those wishing to join via Zoom.

Cooking classes are only being offered virtually as Wirtz said she doesn’t feel safe offering it in person yet and the kitchen at the arts centre is too small for physical distancing. Participants are sent a shopping list beforehand and join via Zoom. The cooking classes are also covered by a grant making them free to take part in.

(Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)

Prince Albert Concert band

The Prince Albert Concert Band is following guidelines from both the provincial government and the Saskatchewan Band Association (SBA), according to the band’s director, Kayleigh Skomorowski.

Provincial guidelines require 4 metres of distance or a physical barrier between live music performers that include singing, woodwind, and brass instruments.

Skomorowski says it’s not a requirement for the concert band to follow SBA guidelines, however they are doing so for extra precaution.

The SBA was one of more than 125 organizations that supported an aerosol study out of Colorado that looked at the amount of aerosol spread from playing instruments and singing, and how to safely play, Skoromowski said.

The SBA also recommends face masks and bell cover masks for the instruments when playing.

Skomorowski says performers have cut holes into their face masks to allow them to play their instruments, and the band has also ordered special manufactured masks for performers. She said most performers have use two layers of fabric, such as old t-shirts, to cover bells.

“Getting used to playing with the masks on I think is just kind of the challenge but it’s no different than those of who haven’t worn masks regularly,when you finally start getting used to that,” Skomorowski said “as far as sound quality and covering off the end of the instruments, it’s very nominal”

The band has 28 registered members but not all have returned to rehearsals. Skoromoski estimates there are about 23 to 24 members who attend rehearsals on a regular basis. Instead of having one rehearsal altogether, the members are split into two groups and rehearse separately.

“We can only fit 11 people in (the space) following the 4 metre rule so that’s why we’ve kind of split that up and then also when the indoor private gathering number was dropped from 30 to 15 by the health authority we also thought it was again another good reason”

The concert band isn’t planning any live in-person shows at the moment due to fluctuating cases in the area but Skomorowski says they are thinking about hosting a virtual stream in the future that could also be recorded.

“Once we get to the point where the music we’re working on is starting to sound more like something we want to share with the public then we’ll just be looking at doing some live stream stuff for the community.”