At the end of the summer, faced with the familiar threat of canceling shows due to COVID-19, the Center for the Arts made a bold choice to require vaccination for all of its event patrons.

The move mirrored those of other venues across the country, but at the time it was an unprecedented move for Jackson, which welcomed a fair bit of criticism.

“The vast majority has been supportive,” said the Center’s executive director, Marty Camino. “[But] I don’t think it’d be a surprise to hear that we’ve gotten some negative feedback.”

That decision ultimately allowed the nonprofit to host a suite of offseason shows, from Andrew Munz’s breakout musical to the touring crowd-favorite The Infamous Stringdusters. Combined with other safety measures like updated HVAC and pandemic-prompted modernizations like multicamera livestream, the Center’s beating heart — its main stage — began to beat again.

“I was really proud that we stood our ground,” Development Director Anne Ladd said.

Ladd oversees giving for the nonprofit and was excited to announce the numbers from this year’s Old Bill’s fundraiser: With a match, 324 donors contributed $230,000, a 30% increase from 2020 and a 64% increase from 2019.

Ladd said it was also encouraging to see 100 additional donors sign on over the past two years, proof to her that “there’s something for everybody” at the Center.

On Dec. 1, six additional artists were revealed to round out the venue’s winter 2022 season.

For many the joy of the Center’s reopening started during the sold-out weekend of Munz’s “Cowboys Like Us” fairy tale. The action on stage may have been fantasy, but the people swirling about during intermission — lending their joyous cacophony to the halls — were quite real. Munz and the Center helped celebrate the moment by opening the bar after the show, bumping the after-party energy to new heights.

For Camino, that magic started with his opening address earlier that evening.

“To stand on stage and see 500 people in that space, that was just so fulfilling,” the director said.

“I’m a musician myself, and I know that the audience give-and-take is such an important part of it. And when you’re playing to a 33% capacity house it’s just not the same. So yeah, as of October 1, we said, you know, let’s make a commitment to getting back to full capacity, providing that experience, but continuing to do it in a community conscious way.”

Beyond the stage, the nonprofit campus is recentering connection in other ways. After it originally forgave rent for each of its resident organizations — Dancers’ Workshop, the Art Association, Off Square Theatre and others — the Center has slashed rent prices by three-fourths so that groups that lost income from canceled productions could continue to meet and practice.

That meant art classes could resume and young dancers could once again grace the floorboards with their exuberant steps.

“It’s like elephants,” Ladd said with a laugh. “But it’s the best sound ever, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

All of that reopening doesn’t come without costs. The Center is once again hiring event staff and paying for national acts, and with less income from its renters, the nonprofit is hoping for additional winter giving from the community.

“We need the community but I think the community also recognizes that they need this Center,” Camino said.

“I feel like we’re more cohesive with our donors than maybe we’ve ever been,” Ladd echoed.

“I mean, I’ve lived here for 33 years, and ... there was no Center when my kids were small. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be part of this community, never been more proud to be a colleague with all of our resident organizations. I think, coming together, the places we can go are pretty magnificent.”

“I feel like we’re more cohesive with our donors than maybe we’ve ever been.” — Anne Ladd Center for the Arts

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or ERJ@jhnewsandguide.com.

Evan Robinson-Johnson covers issues residents face on a daily basis, from smoky skies to housing insecurity. Originally from New England, he has settled in east Jackson and avoids crowds by rollerblading through the alleyways.

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