Cultural landscape on the ropes against COVID-19

Theaters, concert venues and museums in Philly face tough decisions as the pandemic spreads.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia Museum of Art (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, March 17

With the threat of COVID-19 rising, Philadelphia’s cultural life is shrinking. Many performances, arts venues and theaters are temporarily closing.

Some closings are triggered by an order from the city announced Thursday afternoon, banning any gathering of more than 1,000 people.

That decision triggered the Kimmel Center to shut down until April 11, and start rescheduling over 200 events that had been planned until then.

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Earlier in the day the Philadelphia Orchestra, which performs at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall, announced on its own that it would cancel its next three concert programs, including performances of Beethoven symphonies 2, 3, 5, and 6.

President Matías Tarnopolsky said any concert cancellation is a financial hit to the organization.

“The only priority is the health of the musicians, the staff, and the audiences that come to us. That makes the decision abundantly clear,” he said. “The economic impacts are severe. We’re going to have to work through that.”

The orchestra is not offering refunds for unused tickets, but is waiving its usual fee to exchange it for a future concert. Tarnopolsky is asking ticket holders to consider donating the cost of the ticket to the orchestra.

On Thursday evening, just after the orchestra’s cancellations were announced, the musicians performed Beethoven’s 5th and 6th symphonies to an empty Verizon Hall. The concert was streamed live online, as well as recorded for future broadcasts on WRTI radio and WHYY-TV.

Union Transfer, a music venue on Spring Garden Street, is continuing to present concerts but many bands on the schedule are self-selecting to cancel or postpone, including They Might Be Giants, who were scheduled for Friday.

Local music fan David S. Cohen, along with his wife and friends, had tickets to that show. A big fan of TMBG, Cohen says he must have seen them about 20 times already. Nevertheless, he had already decided not to attend the concert even before the band pulled out.

“We were all very excited for the show,” said Cohen. “But we all sensed that being in close proximity to so many people for several hours – it gets hot and sweaty – would not be a good idea, given what’s going on.”

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Barnes Foundation, the Franklin Institute announced in a joint statement on Friday, March 13 that they would close to the public and cancel all public programming for at least the next two weeks.

“This is a time to unite in service to our community, and we will continue to work with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania health officials and one another to coordinate our efforts,” according to the press release.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and other schools are canceling all in-person classes, instead moving classes online.

PAFA is asking students living in its residential building to move out by Saturday night. However those students who have been assigned studios are still encouraged to use them to work on art projects.

“They are private. They have doors and walls, so you don’t have the same issues of gathering that you have in a classroom of 10 to 20 students,” said president David Brigham.

The PAFA museum, spread over two buildings on North Broad Street, also is now closed for the foreseeable future. They normally do not attract large crowds at any one time, and lately they have attracted less than normal visitors.


Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that PAFA is asking students in residential buildings to move out by Saturday night.

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