The Society of the Four Arts will close until further notice Friday, cutting short its arts and education season, and the Palm Beach Book Festival scheduled for next week has been canceled.
Both are casualties of the worldwide COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.
“Coronavirus conference canceled in New York because of coronavirus,” read the headline in New York’s tabloid newspaper Wednesday.
This headline succinctly sums up the confusion and conundrum of this newly named pandemic. As uncertainty and anxiety spread, where is the line between overreacting and negligence?
And for arts and cultural institutions in Palm Beach County, that comes down to one question: To cancel or not to cancel.
And although as of Wednesday, Palm Beach County has no officially recorded cases of the coronavirus, Broward County has three and two Florida residents have died from the virus.
The Florida Department of Health’s website notes eight new cases of COVID-19 in the state, seven in Florida residents. Despite these cases, the Florida Department of Health maintains the overall immediate threat to the public is low.
So, should the show go on?
Yes, according to many of the large museums and performing arts venues in the county, including the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, the Flagler Museum, all in West Palm Beach; the Lighthouse Center for the Arts in Tequesta; the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton; and Delray Beach’s Arts Garage.
“At this time, the Kravis Center is continuing with all performances as originally planned,” a spokesperson for the center said Wednesday. “We are closely monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and have instituted an enhanced cleaning process for all spaces and have added additional hand sanitizer stations throughout the facilities for both the public, our staff, and visiting artists.”
Most of the venues that plan to stay open have provided similar responses and said they’ve implemented additional cleaning measures and vigilance.
Melinda Grenz, spokeswoman for the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium added: “Currently, we are asking everyone — staff, volunteers, and visitors — to commit to the hygiene standards recommended by the Center for Disease Control and to stay home if they do not feel well.”
In addition, FAU Theatre Lab’s Southeastern premiere of playwright Jennifer Lane’s To Fall in Love will go on as planned in Parliament Hall starting today and running through April 5.
Other productions carrying on this week include Pigs Do Fly Productions’ Helen on Wheels, a comedy by Cricket Daniel at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale running through March 29, and Chasing Jack, an award-winning play by John S. Anastasi, making its Southeastern premiere at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton today, where it will remain through March 22.
Boca Raton’s Primal Forces Productions will open Kenneth Lin’s political thriller, Warrior Class, on Friday as planned, and all scheduled performances at the Mizner Park Cultural Center through April 13 will run as planned.
Some events, such as the Ann Norton Sculpture Garden’s lecture presentation – Sites of Creativity, by Tom Mayes — have been rescheduled for April 29 instead of March 18, its original date.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach announced Tuesday it would abruptly end its 2019-20 season programming Friday following the Film Series presentation A Private War.
Refunds will be issued to those who have purchased event tickets. (Contact the Society for further information – staff will be working on-site or from home.)
The next day, the Esther B. O’Keeffe Gallery Building (the art gallery), the Gubelmann Auditorium, the King Library, the Dixon Education Building, and the Rovensky Administration Building all will close until further notice.
Their botanical gardens and the Philip Hulitar Sculpture Garden will remain open to the public, without docent-led tours.
In a statement, the Society quoted U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams: “Communities need to start thinking about whether it makes sense to cancel large gatherings, close schools, and make it more feasible for employees to work from home.”
Officials went on to say: “Due to the situation, The Four Arts has decided not to assemble people in classrooms or lecture halls over the next few months, reducing potential chances of contagion.”
Also canceled is the Palm Beach Book Festival, originally scheduled for March 21 at FAU.
Polly Burks, director of communications at the FAU Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, said they had no plans to reschedule, despite having their panel of authors ready to go.
“But,” Burks said, “Next year will be bigger and better.”