CASPER, Wyo. – The Nicolaysen Art Museum relies on crowds and financial generosity to thrive.
Both may now be in short supply as the global COVID-19 pandemic has made crowds and disposable income a rarity.
The annual Nic Fest art and music festival was scheduled for mid-June, but because of coronavirus all outdoor June events have been canceled by the city.
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It has now tentatively been scheduled for July 24-26, according to museum executive director Ann Ruble.
“We’ve applied for new permits with the city,” she said, “that was an open weekend on the calendar.” The move will put the festival very close to other big annual weekends, such as the Beartrap Music Festival and Duck Derby.
Nic Fest is the museum’s largest annual event, according to Ruble, and it’s the museum’s second largest generator of funds.
The museum’s most important fund raiser is the annual Bash and Ball in September, and even how that moves forward is uncertain right now.
“I hope in July we’ll be at a place where we can actually hold a crowd event,” she said. The museum is moving forward with Nic Fest planning as if it’s a go. That’ll mean working in social distancing, sanitation and other likely guidelines to keep people safe from coronavirus.
“We’d be like the experiment, because we’d be the first big crowd event that I know of that’s on the calendar.”
Even then, Ruble knows fear of the unknown will no doubt affect turnout.
“What the crowd looks like, I just don’t know,” she said. “All we can do is plan the best that we can and still might have to cancel at the last minute.”
Without a way to raise funds or even show their art, the museum is likely facing the most challenging period in its 50-year history.
Ruble says the museum was eligible for the payroll protection plan that has helped keep staff so far, along with some special grants.
“Right now we’re focused on how to get through the end of June,” she said. “but there are so many question marks on what the future looks like.”
The museum’s programs such as workshops, therapeutic programs and children’s art classes have stopped during the pandemic, and questions on how to proceed in the COVID era abound.
The museum’s historic building, a former electric generation plant, is popular with event and wedding planners and is another source of income.
But people are canceling events, and what looked like a solid season of bookings is rapidly evaporating.
The energy crash has also put the squeeze on large donations.
“A lot of our major donors are also going through their own financial crisis right now,” she said. “I sympathize with that.”
“I don’t know what the future is going to look like,” said Ruble, “but I do know we’re going to have to change and adapt.”
The museum has made an online virtual gallery to show its art, and has moved some workshops online.
Ruble says the arts serve communities in ways beyond the obvious. They not only make a city more engaging and inviting by generating excitement and local traffic, they serve a deeper mission that she says is needed more than ever during dark times.
“You need these things to enrich your soul, and if they’re not here that’s really sad,” she said.
Other cities have already lost their museums and other arts organizations because of the pandemic, said Ruble.
“I don’t want to be one of those,” she said. “I want to figure out how we continue to serve the public and do what we do for the public’s good.”