The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge us all to rethink how we engage in the arts, provide access and sustain our audiences. For most of us, that means making a transition from our offerings and outreach in a physical space to bringing people together for a shared experience in a digital space. It also means continuing to support our artists, who are the soul and backbone of everything we do.
I am excited to share with the readers of Arts & Culture Connections what we’ve been doing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) since the “Stay Home/Stay Safe” guidelines were announced in New Jersey. David Rodriguez, NJPAC’s Executive Vice President and Executive Producer, explained the spirit behind this effort: “In this unprecedented time of uncertainty, we need the joy the performing arts can bring us more than ever before. You can’t come to our theaters right now, but we can bring the magic of NJPAC to you, (to your living rooms).”
We helped our audiences make the transition to NJPAC in Your Living Room by sending them emails, posting on social media and making telephone calls. The free online offerings include backstage interviews, virtual dance parties, jazz, classical music and theater, dance, arts education, business roundtable, Women @NJPAC, and activities geared towards children.
The NJPAC Community Engagement team was able to successfully transform 32 of our 41 planned live events to virtual events, utilizing Facebook Live and Instagram. Our “DJ Dance Parties,” for example, are now held only every Thursday at 7 p.m. and feature local DJ’s broadcasting from their homes. This month kicked off with a virtual dance party featuring the Latin music mix of DJ Checo and DJ Jay-J (Rafael Pacheco and Jay Castello). Previous virtual parties have featured different artists and different genres of music every week, including House, World and R&B. An upcoming event will feature Gospel music. Here’s a link to the schedule.
We think of these virtual dance parties as a community bridge, introducing these emerging and established talents to the NJPAC family and welcoming the DJ’s fans and followers to NJPAC. We’ve been able to expand our audience to incorporate a younger demographic and make new connections, which has resulted in positive comments from fans, friends, and family.
Another important feature of these events, which are sponsored by our corporate partners, is that public health and service announcements are included in the introductions, reminding people of the importance of staying safe during the pandemic and referring to the absence of in-person performances as an “intermission” in NJPAC’s regular programming.
You’ll find several more examples of how to engage your audiences in this era of social distancing in this recent blog post by the Wallace Foundation. I also encourage you to listen to this Jersey Arts “Culture Vulture” podcast interview, which features leaders of four performing arts institutions about the steps they’re taking to stay in touch with their audiences using the virtual space.
I firmly believe the way forward will emerge through innovative action, powered by our collective conviction that the arts are one of humanity’s most essential nutrients.
Many of you are experimenting with ways to engage with your audiences and I hope you will share what you’ve been doing and learning in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you. In the interim, “Stay Home and Stay Safe!”