New challenges

Cultural organizations strategize for a different future

“Baptism by fire” is a phrase I’ve heard a few times too many during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. I started as general manager at Flying Anvil Theatre in February. On March 16th, we made the official decision to suspend operations. Since then, we’ve been working from home — plotting, strategizing, and trying to move forward. We’re still creating even though our patrons have stopped entering our doors. The struggle is real.

Like many other local cultural organizations, we’ve had a lot on our minds. How do we stay relevant? Is there work to be done? When is the right time to open? Should we create? How do we survive?

Those questions have both consumed our souls and forced us to innovate. All of our past knowledge about who our audiences are, what they want, and how we interact has changed. Flying Anvil, along with organizations like Ijams Nature Center and The East Tennessee History Center, have taken to online platforms to bring content to our community. We’re engaging our audiences where they now work and socialize, and we hope to find some new members in the process.

Our cultural organizations remain as important as they were before. Along with local businesses and the Knoxvillians who support them, they are the heart and soul of this scruffy little city. We love our festivals, marketplaces, events, and assorted gatherings on Market Square. It’s easy to feel disconnected without them; I know I do.

I also know that as organizations reopen, we’ll be doing our best to keep you safe. We’ll have new measures in place, and we’ll communicate them to you. 

But here’s the thing: cultural organizations are going to work differently now. There’s too much uncertainty, too much ‘newness’ around. Everyone’s lives are fundamentally different, and we must be able to respond. Agility is king, and we can’t operate like we were pre-pandemic, it simply won’t work.

It’s almost like we’ve all been baptized by fire. We were planning for a future we thought we knew, but, instead, we’re  finding new ways of tackling new situations. No one asked for it, but I think we’ll all come out stronger in the end.   

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