arts for all

Kenyatta Ray, from Belgium, displays his unique form of artwork at last year’s Arts for All Festival. It was his first time to exhibit his work at the annual show in Shepler Park. The fate of this year’s festival is in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It might be apocryphal, but it has been said that Shakespeare penned “King Lear” and “Macbeth” under a self-imposed quarantine while the plague ravaged London and closed theatres.

While it is likely a tall tale, it is one that signifies the resilience of the arts. The belief that, even in the darkest of times, the poets, painters and performers will continue to flourish.

Lawton has a special arts community. Visitors and new arrivals are quick to recognize the cooperation between the city’s multiple arts organizations. As the novel coronavirus spreads, members of these arts organizations are considering the financial impact it might have, the strength of their bonds and the resilience that lies within the soul of each artist.

Patty Neuwirth is the executive director of the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra. Spring is usually the time of year that she would be reaching out to patrons to renew sponsorships and season tickets. But, as with all things, the global pandemic has thrown a wrench into her plans.

The orchestra’s final show of the season is scheduled for April 25 at the McMahon Auditorium. But that show’s fate is up in the air.

“We’re looking right now at postponing until July,” Neuwirth said. “We have 75 musicians already contracted who have been practicing and we’ve already ordered music. We’ve already canceled our board meeting and we will see what our options are.”

The musicians who perform in the orchestra are all professional, union contracted musicians who play with multiple orchestras throughout the year. Neuwirth said any rescheduling of Lawton’s concerts would depend on “the big dog on the block,” The OKC Philharmonic Orchestra.

“They (The OKC Philharmonic) get to pick and choose their dates before anyone else and they are moving their dates around,” Neuwirth said.

But Neuwirth and the orchestra have something up their sleeve that many other communities across Oklahoma don’t, the support of Arts for All, the umbrella arts organization that helps fund several arts organizations throughout the community.

“Arts for All gives us $40,000 a year,” Neuwirth said. “We fundraise together, and I totally think that’s the best way to do it. Our biggest fundraiser is in November and hopefully everything will be over by then.”

Arts for All consists of six participating member groups, including the Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra. All of the groups are pulling together right now to support one another during these trying times.

“I think the artists and the art groups in town back each other so much,” said Desirae Schneider, president of the Lawton Fort Sill Art Council, another AFA member group.

“If anybody needs anything, we will be there for them in a heartbeat. We are all going to have to band together right now,” Schneider said.

The Art Council has canceled all of its upcoming workshops for the next month, which leaves a lot of kids without a creative outlet, according to Schneider. At any typical workshop there are between 40 and 60 kids, Schneider said. Additionally, many civic groups will often rent out the facilities for meetings and events — all of which have also been canceled.

But ultimately, Schneider isn’t too worried. She praised Arts for All for being the glue that would help hold the arts community together through these trying times.

“Besides,” she said, “Oklahomans are a resilient bunch.”

“We are a hearty breed, especially in Oklahoma, we take care of each other, we take care of our community.” Schneider said. “We’ll bounce back. We always do.”

Bobbi Matchette, the executive director of Arts for All, has been busy fielding calls from artists across the state this past week, while also collaborating with representatives from various member groups including Neuwirth and Schneider.

Spring is an important time for the organization. While many of its member groups are planning fundraisers, Arts for All is preparing for the annual Arts for All Festival held every year in downtown Lawton.

The Arts for All board is planning to meet this week to decide on the fate of the annual festival, which is scheduled to begin on May 8.

“I’m getting calls from artists, everyday, who are calling because festivals are being canceled and for a lot of them that is their only income,” Matchette said. “At least for us with Arts for All we are fortunate because we do have some backup resources. But this (pandemic) will probably reduce our income for the year.”

Despite her concerns about the future and the unknown, Matchette is in good spirits. Artists, she said, are better together.

“There is huge support for each other. Being together gets us through. I had reps from several groups in here yesterday helping me stuff envelopes. We could feel the comfort in just being together,” Matchette said. “Knowing there are so many of us that care about each other, that can work together, it’s truly a blessing.”

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