A look back at the 2019-20 cultural season in Palm Beach County, which was upturned when the coronavirus struck. What does the future hold?

The 2019-20 cultural season was moving along at a good clip until mid-March when the coronavirus descended, shutting doors, drying up income and derailing plans for the future.


We’ll get to that. But first, let’s take a look at happier, pre-virus days.


The Kravis Center unveiled its latest expansion in November, opening up an inviting plaza beckoning visitors into the center, easing traffic congestion with a new valet parking garage and an additional ramp to the self-park garage, and enlarging the Dreyfoos Hall lobby.


Several new leaders took the helm, including President and Chief Executive Officer Philip Rylands at The Society of the Four Arts; Music Director Gerard Schwarz at the Palm Beach Symphony; and Artistic Director Arnaud Sussmann and Executive Director Doug Evans at the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach.


Familiar faces who have guided their organizations to success are leaving the scene. Lew Crampton stepped down as the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium’s president in March, after 10 years of service. He will put his talents to work as a board member raising money for the next phase of the center’s expansion. CEO Kate Arrizza added his title to her responsibilities.


Kravis Center CEO Judith Mitchell announced in March that she will retire at the end of the year, after 30 years as a leading light of the performing arts center.


The Norton Museum and the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens welcomed their first artists in residence in January. Three of the Norton Museum’s four artists completed their residencies. The fourth left early when the coronavirus invaded Palm Beach County.


After raising more than half its goal from its inner circle Miami City Ballet went public in February with its $55 million multipurpose fund-raising campaign. One month later, fundraising shifted to sustaining the company through the pandemic.


Which brings us back to the coronavirus.


Once efforts to prevent the virus’ spread ramped up in March, venues closed and staff scattered to work from home.


Now organizations are running numbers to calculate how best to survive and plotting multiple versions of their seasons, depending on when they might re-open.


Just when that will be is up in the air. Groups are looking to government officials and industry colleagues for cues.


The Kravis Center is "modeling a November opening, a January opening and a March mini-season opening," Mitchell said.


The outcome will determine not only the Kravis’ season but also that of groups such as Miami City Ballet, Palm Beach Opera and Palm Beach Symphony that perform at the center.


The season’s premature end forced many groups to cancel performances, leaving them with ticket holders to satisfy and unmet revenue projections.


Among the Kravis Center’s canceled shows were two of its lucrative Broadway series musicals.


Several groups reported that most ticket holders agreed to donate the value of their tickets to the organizations or accept a credit for future performances.


After closing on March 13, the Kravis Center furloughed its 123 part-time staff on March 30. The furloughs haven’t spread to its full-time staff yet.


The Norton Museum, which also shut down on March 13, hasn’t laid off staff yet, but Director and CEO Elliot Bostwick Davis estimates the museum is losing $250,000 in income each month it is closed.


In an ongoing Americans for the Arts survey of the nation’s cultural sector, 88 percent of Palm Beach County’s 46 respondents said they were concerned about making payroll.


Funding from the federal payroll protection program will relieve the pressure on some organizations.


"We might not see drastic changes to the cultural landscape until later this summer when the funding runs out," said Dave Lawrence, CEO of the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County.


Even when groups are green-lighted to re-open, many aren’t sure how they’ll adjust to the new normal.


The Norton Museum is exploring options such as timed ticketing and laying down visitor circulation routes to maintain social distancing.


Social distancing is a bigger problem for performing groups.


"What do you do about actors?" said Sue Ellen Beryl, managing director of Palm Beach Dramaworks. "There’s no way to social distance when you’re in a play."


Social distancing might not be practical from a financial standpoint as well.


"How are we going to social distance with a 218-seat theater?" said Bill Hayes, Dramaworks’ producing artistic director.


In addition cultural groups’ patrons tend to be older, the group most vulnerable to the virus. Dramaworks plans to survey its patrons in the fall to find out what would have to occur before they’d want to return to the theater.


In the meantime, organizations are stepping up their online presences as a way to remain connected to their audiences.


Fundraising to recoup losses inflicted by the virus probably will have to wait.


"Not a lot of messaging is getting through," the Cultural Council’s Lawrence said. "People are scared and concentrating on stay-at-home orders and social distancing."


There’s a long road ahead, he said.


"I truly believe we will be experiencing the effects of this situation for several years."


jsjostrom@pbdailynews.com


@sjostromjan