Perkins asks community for help keeping art alive amid pandemic

Perkins Center for the Arts’ mission is not solely to provide arts education. Executive Director Kahra Buss said the center is also an economic partner with the arts community to provide a source of income and opportunities to  sustain working artists. 

“As a community organization, we take our role very seriously,” Buss noted.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the center to shut down all in-person activity, the nonprofit is feeling the economic strain. For that reason, it  launched the #KeepingArtsAlive campaign to raise $120,000 in an effort to keep their programming alive and their facility open once the pandemic ends. 

Buss said about a week prior to the center’s shutdown, she and others  watched as closures swept across New York and North Jersey. In anticipation of potential closures closer to home, Perkins’ staff began having conversations with the center’s teachers on how comfortable they were about continuing in-person instruction. 

Based on those conversations, staff began formulating a strategy for some of their instructors to work from home. Buss said after they assessed how to make the changes, staffers started reaching out to students to see what options they had available to them for virtual instruction. 

While their emphasis had always been on in-person instruction, the center quickly transitioned to work online. Buss said she and staffers did so with the consideration that they wanted to continue a sense of normalcy for their students and offer a service that people could find joy in during this time. 

Maintaining employment for its instructors was also paramount in decisions. Buss said the center recognized the pandemic was not something that was going to go away quickly, and the staff needed to be good community partners by keeping teachers financially secure. 

Within a week, Perkins transitioned all of its conservatory of music teachers and students to an online platform. Some of the spring programming was not due to start for another few weeks, giving staff time to strategize about how to get their visual arts instructors online. 

Perkins is also taking exhibitions online. The center serves as a place for local and emerging artists to have their work displayed and purchased, so  all of the photographs on the walls of both the Moorestown and Collingswood facilities will be on display on Perkins’ website. 

“As an arts center, we are one of the cogs in the economy that often goes overlooked,” Buss said.

Team members are virtually convening on a weekly basis to discuss what about their approach is and isn’t working. Looking ahead, the plan is to provide professional development to some of the visual arts teachers to help them navigate teaching in an online setting. 

Buss said at this point, the center’s major concern is that it is facing more than $100,000 in lost fourth-quarter revenue.

“That in and of itself is very daunting,” Buss acknowledged.

Staff is working to provide services that support the teachers, but the organization itself is in very real danger. Perkins applied for all of the available stimulus opportunities but has yet to receive any funding. 

Perkins also was forced to cancel its upcoming fundraising events. Buss said for attendees, fundraisers are an enjoyable night out of the house, but for nonprofits, those evenings are essential to financial stability. It’s  unclear how the center will recoup those losses. 

“It’s a very, very dangerous time for nonprofits and cultural institutions,” Buss noted.

Through the #KeepingArtsAlive campaign, Perkins asks the community to help it explore creative new opportunities to keep the doors open. That may mean those who were considering a since cancelled spring class could  make a contribution instead, or anyone who was planning to attend the center’s fundraising event could donate the cost of a ticket. 

To learn more about Perkins Center for the Arts or to donate, visit https://perkinsarts.org