COVID-19 paints bleak picture for local arts scene

Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra, among others, scramble for funding.

Sandy Susag

COVID-19 is making its mark not only on local businesses such as restaurants, bars, retail stores and more, but it is hitting the local arts associations and other non-profits pretty hard.

Sandy Susag, executive director of the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra, said all arts organizations have been affected in a negative way with loss of income due to cancelled performances.

Not only the Central Lakes Symphony, but also Central Lakes Concert Association, Theatre L’Homme Dieu, Andria Theatre, Art De Tour and many more have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the governor’s shut down orders.

“I guesstimate Central Lakes Symphony lost approximately $8,000 of budgeted income in having to cancel our last two concerts,” said Susag. “That’s between ticket revenue and money we needed to pay the performing artists who could not perform but had rehearsed, plus have to throw around $750 worth of programs into the recycling bin.”

Susag said none of those costs can be recouped.


She said the CLSO is also facing a sharp downturn because of a predicted complete loss of Legacy Amendment grants due to the loss of sales tax dollars. The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund receives a percentage of sales tax revenue from the Legacy Amendment to support arts, arts education and arts access to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.

“That is going to be a problem,” said Susag.

And not just for the CLSO, but so many of the arts organizations, she added. A lot of them, she said, go after the same funding and there isn’t going to be any funding to go after.

In addition, Susag said many arts organizations rely heavily on the generosity of its supporters by way of the community.
“How can we ask for a handout from businesses that haven’t been open or were burned down?” said Susag. “We need to be cognizant of that. This is going to be a huge problem.”

Susag said a group of people from all different types of nonprofits have been meeting weekly to talk about the issues with funding and to share ideas of how to hopefully generate income by way of sponsorship.

For the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra, Susag said it currently has plans to move forward with its next season of concerts, which are set to start in October.

One of the issues faced by arts organizations is that their events don’t just happen. Susag said it takes months of planning and preparation. Many of the performers are booked a year in advance, she said, which gives them time to come up with the material and then to practice. This is why most performers are still paid, albeit sometimes it is a portion of their fee, even if they don’t perform.

Susag talked about how the cancellation of performances not only affects the organization, but also the community by way of an economic impact. She said there are hotel rooms not booked, gas and groceries that are not bought, restaurants that are not visited.


The economic impact from the arts in the Alexandria lakes area, said Susag, is about $3 million annually.

“We have been blessed with sponsors and our faithful disciples who support us,” she said. “And we are very thankful. But the trickle down is all over. People may not understand the gravity of it all.”

Susag said that even though there may not be events, some arts association, those that are brick and mortar, still need cash to operate. They still have lights, water, electricity, she said. They still have bills to pay.

The biggest thing people can do right now for the arts, Susag said, is to send financial support. Maybe it’s a donation or maybe it is buying wares from an artist, she said every little bit counts.

“Your $5 is like $50. Every donation is appreciated,” she said, noting it is best to pay directly to the arts organization or to the artist. “Support where your heart is. Every little bit helps. The arts are the fabric of the community woven into what makes us, us.”

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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