The last nine months have been challenging to say the least. Each one of us know well a host of unique challenges, but for arts organizations, the impact of the shutdown has been enormous and has serious implications. Many of you have asked how Convocations is faring, and what the future will hold for the organization. With that in mind, Todd Wetzel, Assistant Vice Provost, Student Life and Executive Director, Purdue Convocations and Elliott Hall of Music/Hall of Music Productions, provided some answers to these questions and more.

 

Todd Wetzel

Is Convos able to present performances right now?

Sadly, traditionally staged performances with live audiences are not possible at the moment, and in our work to support the Protect Purdue Pledge, we are not inviting guests to campus at this time for the benefit of our students. Of course, most artists, ensembles, and productions are on hiatus, as well, as the health, artistic, logistic, and financial feasibility of this work doesn’t pass any reasonable tests.

However, this doesn’t mean that creativity and performance experiences are on the back burner—quite the contrary. We are bringing you live virtual performances of critical acclaim and noted aesthetic quality. As we move into this next phase of pandemic management in which we continue to practice social distancing, wear masks, and welcome the rollout of vaccinations, we can reset our expectations and acceptance of how these novel performance experiences can be powerful ways to encounter the resilience, grit, and ingenuity of artists. Just as artists have always worked within the limitations of their art form, they are doing the same thing now with the solutions we have available to us—often in surprising and thought-provoking ways.

 

What is the current state of affairs for Convos and the Hall of Music?

Well, as you could imagine—this has been difficult for all of us. Both Convos and the Hall of Music had a full slate of performances on deck for the 2020-21 academic year. Nonetheless, our teams have been working both on-campus and remotely on targeted, high-impact projects to support the creation and dissemination of virtual programs, as well as the academic experience for our students, as all of our venues are currently being used as classrooms. Behind the scenes support for the Pursuing Racial Justice Together series for the Division of Diversity & Inclusion, creating an on-line Commencement experience for our graduating Boilermakers, and providing production support for the ReEntry Purdue Atmosphere platform of events and locations, among scores of other activities have kept us engaged and on the go. We’ll continue to add exciting new engagements as we go, throughout the Spring 2021 semester—so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, we have certainly had to make difficult decisions and manage through a dramatically transformed financial environment as performances and events were canceled in the spring of 2020 and didn’t return. There are many unfilled positions across the units and our amazing teams have been pivoting, stretching, and compensating in truly remarkable ways to serve our students and clients.

 

What does the future look like? What kinds of performances and engagements will return first?

Just like you, we’re eagerly following the science and watching the progress on vaccine approvals, distribution, and administration. Everything hinges on herd immunity as the first order of business, and a close second for us at Purdue will be the decision to re-open the campus to visitors while also resuming traditional classroom usage that restores schedule availability to our performance venues.

But right alongside this is the statement of the obvious: The arts are a powerful force for how we create community—and nothing has created a clearer case for this than their absence during the pandemic.

We are committed to bringing back performances as soon as it is practical and safe for the artists AND the audiences. Clearly, the financial underpinnings associated with the art of performance will dictate the flow. Our sense is that there won’t be a “flip of a switch” return to the “old days” of touring, but an exponential curve that starts slowly and then ramps up as the machine starts humming again. The financial and operational components of our cultural ecology will need to rebuild themselves, book shows, rehire casts and staff, and rehearse productions, and so on. This system is highly interdependent, so there are many steps to take before we’re all off and running. But we are eager to run again! In the meantime, please explore the deeply creative projects and ventures we’re delivering this spring here.

 

When will live performances return and how will you manage safety for the artists and the audiences?

Thanks for asking this—it is essential that we can see that audiences want to return, and while survey data that reflect audiences’ potential desire to return are helpful, we’ll need to measure this principally by the traffic at the box office. I’m sorry to paint this so simply—but this will definitely be a moment for people to put their values into action. Ticket purchases make a powerful difference!

Our work, in addition to engaging great performances, will be to hold your health and safety as a top priority here at Purdue. We’ll undoubtedly continue to support the recommendations and practices proscribed by the Tippecanoe County Health Department, the Protect Purdue Health Center, and campus policies. For now, expect that we will likely ask for protective measures for the greater good and these will evolve over time as we march towards herd immunity.

At the moment, we’re still planning for exciting and innovative productions and experiences to grace our 119th season in 2021-22. We’ll create a sophisticated and savvy mixture of performances that are informed by great art, world-class discourse, and of course, smart epidemiological science. We can’t wait to share this with you later this spring. Watch our website for updates and announcements!

 

How are you raising money? Do you need support right now?

Currently, in order to firmly establish our capacity to engage artists and productions, we most certainly need to know that your support of this work is present. We work on programming timelines that run 12-24 months in advance, so we need the confidence that we can engage in commitments in advance. If you think about it, having the end of our 2019-20 season end in a string of necessary-but-difficult cancellations, combined with the loss of box office and contributed revenues at scale means that we need your help right now to rebuild our capacity. You can find out how your sustained support is fundamental to our work here.

 

What have you been doing to cope during this time?

Do you mean, aside from opening the refrigerator and pantry doors too often? Many folks have explored the comparisons between the current pandemic and the Spanish Flu in 1918. I’ve certainly thought about how different it would have been to shelter-in-place without the internet because my deep dives into streaming content of the performing arts have been a huge lifeline. Yet simultaneously, I think we all felt the encroachment of our digital devices and the challenges of preserving the “life” side of the work-life balance, so I also spent serious therapeutic time in the analog joys of reading books (not e-books), playing guitar, and running. Oh, and did I mention cooking and eating? Guess it’s time to go running again…

 

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