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Southern Colorado’s cultural venues persist to stay open and survive until 2021

Sangre de Cristo Arts Center (PULP Colorado)
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Southern Colorado’s events and arts venues have seen exhibitions and large events wiped right off the calendar because of COVID-19. It’s forcing venues like Pueblo’s Sangre de Cristo Arts Center to get through 2020 with smaller events and exhibitions.

For the large concert venues like the Pikes Peaks Center in Colorado Springs or Memorial Hall in Pueblo, the social distancing restrictions are making bookers eye sometime in 2021 to bring back major events.

“We just think it is going to be a really lean year, and it is probably going to impact 2021 as well,” said Alyssa Parga, marketing director for the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center.

The Sangre reopened in July but has taken a severe financial hit during the closure they endured this spring. Many of the center’s members canceled their memberships during the closure, which, along with other reasons, affected the revenue stream significantly, said

Parga said the center is concerned they may see below-average traffic when they first open, as vulnerable individuals could be wary to return. To prepare for a potentially inconsistent crowd, the center is going to keep exhibits open into the winter.

The Sangre is restricting the traffic to nine people per gallery to keep in line with public health orders and social distancing guidelines.

“We’re in charge of the traffic, and we’re managing it, and we’re mitigating traffic,” said Parga.

Despite this, she thinks people can still have a good time at the galleries.

“You can still enjoy the beauty of a Chihuly piece even with a mask on, so I don’t think it’ll really deter from their experience,” she said.

The center will encourage people to register online before coming in person so the limited capacity of the building can be more closely monitored.

As a non-profit organization, the center relies on state funding, and annual fundraisers to operate. The Anniversary Gala, and Festival Friday are two of many fundraisers that will be canceled as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, making it hard for the center to function from a financial standpoint according to Parga.

Despite the restrictions in place, the arts center is hopeful the it will sustain itself.

“We’re just trying to hunker down and realize it is a marathon to get through this, not a sprint,” she said.

The loss of event business everything is at a standstill until the capacity limit for social distancing is relaxed for Pueblo Memorial Hall and Pueblo Convention, the anchor in Pueblo’s fledgling convention and event industry.

Kevin Ortiz, the General Manager at Pueblo Memorial Hall and Pueblo’s Convention Center, both managed by Spectra, has canceled much of its upcoming lineup. He predicts they won’t see a profit from hosting concerts this year.

“As of right now, we are open at a limited capacity, but from a concert sandpoint, there’s not a whole lot we can do at this point in time,” he said.

Ortiz added the current restrictions placed on the Memorial Hall limit the venue to 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.

The Memorial Hall still has a couple events listed for late summer but cancellations happen quickly such as the postponement of an August concert for country music star, Josh Turner. It has been rescheduled to August of 2021.

For their 2020 shows to happen, Ortiz said restrictions would have to loosen in July. But he remains hopeful that the venue could still host shows in the coming months.

“We don’t want to necessarily close the doors on these events,” he said.

If fall concerts do happen, Ortiz said the venue may be able to make some of the revenue loss back before the end of the physical year. However, Ortiz is skeptical the hall would see a large audience turnout.

“I think you’re going to find a few types of individuals: the ones that are itching to get out and do something, and then you’re going to have the individuals that are still a little bit nervous about what’s taken place in our city, state and country,” he said.

Ortiz is doubtful, though, that the hall won’t see the same traffic it did previously and possibly until 2021.

“I think we would be a little naive to think that if we were to have an event in the next month or two, that it’s going to sell out.”

What Spectra has done is test out if the convention center can hold events to recover some of the local convention business it has lost since March.

It held their first event, a Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce luncheon, on July 9 with spaced out tables and limited capacity under the state’s new 100 people or less restriction.

Ortiz called the gathering in a press release, “an important milestone as we begin to safely welcome guests back to the Convention Center.”

For the large venues in Colorado Springs that bring in regional tourism to shows and events the story is much the same.

Andy Vick, executive eirector of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, anticipates COVID-19 closures will have lasting economic impacts on arts in the region well beyond 2020.

“So many of our venues are not able to be open generating ticket or admission revenue,” said Vick. “It has a big economic impact, not only in our sector, but throughout the regional economy.”

He said, while some smaller arts galleries have had some success opening from a retail perspective, bigger, performance venues continue to struggle.

With a seat capacity of 7,343, The Broadmoor World Arena is one of the largest concert venues in the region. While they have hosted some drive-in movie showings to stay connected with the community, they have had to shut their doors to concerts for the time being, according to Vick.

“Like all other, large format venues they are just not able to have performances right now in a safe way that is consistent with the guidelines of El Paso county public health,” said Vick.

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College (FAC) closed in March after Polis’ stay at home order was implemented. Though the public was, and still is, barred from entering the building, Idris Goodwin, FAC’s Director, said they have been able to operate quite successfully online.

Goodwin said the online classes offered by the FAC are surprisingly popular, and can draw individuals to the arts who may not experience them otherwise.

“I think the shift to digital and the online space actually has great potential to increase our reach,” he said. “When the virus cools off and we have a vaccine and all that, there are probably still things we are going to maintain in the virtual space,” he added.

From a financial perspective, Goodwin said the FAC endured a loss in revenue, but will make it through the year.

“Everybody took a hit, the world took a hit,” he said. “The fact that we can stay open and stay afloat in any way — we’re very lucky because that is not the case for everybody, ” he added.

The FAC plans to open in August in some capacity. Once open, they will take major social distancing and sanitization precautions, according to Goodwin.

“The last thing we want to do is be responsible for someone getting sick,” he said.


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