Arts groups struggle as coronavirus keeps crowds at home


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Organizations for the arts across the greater Memphis area are receiving grant funds to help stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ekundayo Bandele, founder and CEO of the Hattiloo Theatre, said so far, he’s had to let go of 11 staff members and has lost almost $200,000 in revenue since closing in mid-March. There’s no word on when he can reopen.

It’s quiet at the Hattiloo Theatre right now. There’s no one in the dressing rooms rehearsing lines, and no one sitting in the seats waiting for the next act.

“There’s nothing for our makeup artist to do when we have no people. Nothing for our costume designer, our set designer, actors, directors any of them,” he said. “We have all these expenses that continue to go out, but we have no earned revenue coming in.”

But despite not having an audience, he’s still ready to put on a show.

Hattiloo Theatre is one of several organizations in the greater Memphis area to receive grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts under the Cares Act.

Bandele said the money will go toward their online education and outreach programs and prepping for their big reopening — whenever that may be.

“We set our seats in pairs with six feet apart from each pair of seats, and then from the stage to the front row of seats, there’s eight feet on each side,” he said.

But the search for funding doesn’t just stop at the performing arts.

ArtsMemphis recently did a survey of more than 250 artists and organizations in Shelby County. So far there has been more than $7 million dollars in income lost.

Elizabeth Rouse, president and CEO of ArtsMemphis, said the group was recently chosen for two grants, which they plan on regranting to local arts organizations later this month.

“My piece of hope is that if Memphians will continue to step up as they have in the past few months, I think together we’ll get through this,” Rouse said.

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