COVID-19 closed them first. Now, live events businesses are the last to reopen.

Red Alert We Make Events
Posted at 8:53 AM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 11:03:54-05

HAMILTON, Ohio — As the threat of coronavirus spread into the United States one year ago, the first closures were live events.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine pulled spectators from the Arnold Sports Festival in early March. The NCAA pulled the plug on its annual basketball championship tournaments. Broadway went dark.

One year later, not much has changed.

The Arnold is postponed until later this year. The NCAA tournament will happen -- in one city with limited spectators. Broadway remains dark.

"Our whole business model, our whole entity, is about bringing people together, as many as we can," said Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, executive director of Hamilton's Fitton Center for Creative Arts.

His organization has been thinking outside the box from early in the pandemic, moving shows outside to Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, holding summer camps with strict protocols, and this month putting productions in placeslike Municipal Brew Works, Pinball Garage, Tano's Bistro and Pohlman Lanes.

"We're trying to meet people where they're at," he said. "Right now, they're allowed to be safely at bars and restaurants, so we're going to take the arts there."

Fitton Outside the Box
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company partners with the Fitton Center for Creative Arts to present small shows at Municipal Brew Works in March 2021. Provided.

At The Banks, a new concert venue is nearly complete.

The Andrew J. Brady ICON Music Center was built with advanced air filtration and can be a touchless guest experience, according to owner and operator Music & Event Management, Inc. (MEMI).

"I think just putting all these things in place are going to benefit us health-wise overall," said Rosemarie Moehring, director of marketing.

The Cincinnati Reds can fill Great American Ball Park to 30% capacity for Opening Day and the foreseeable future, according to the state. It has created a health and safety plan for welcoming guests back this season.

FC Cincinnati has announced its new West End Stadium is ready to open in May, which will face similar capacity restrictions for its inaugural season.

Wedding venues in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are filling up, despite differing and changing guidelines and rules.

"So folks that are just getting engaged this year that want to have a 2022 wedding, their dates have already been taken from the 2020 folks," said Alissa Tibe, president of Lundy Special Events and Carrick House in Kentucky.

So, what pandemic changes should we expect to stay?

"What sticks around? I'm not entirely sure," Mackenzie-Thurley said. "We know that we've done other things successfully, so we'd like to keep those as part of our arsenal."

"Just being able to go to a live concert, people -- myself included -- have taken that for such granted," said Moehring. "That, I can say with certainty, I will never take it for granted again."

MacKenzie-Thurley has spent months researching the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, looking for guidance.

"One of the things I couldn't find is, when did the theaters reopen," he said. "I wonder what we're going to do with this, not just reflection but saying to the next group of people who might not be related to us directly -- it might be 100 years later, 200 years later -- saying to them, 'This is how you survive it.'"

Sick of looking for a road map, he's hoping modern society won't make the same mistake.

"That's something I'd like to see, and the arts can be a big part of it," he said.

ArtWorks said its survey of local nonprofit arts organizations showed between $75-100 million in impact last year. Many of those organizations rely on live events.