With performances on hold, Fairfield ACC assesses options

Chad Drury/The Courier

The Fairfield Arts and Convention Center has postponed or canceled most of its events due to the covid-19 coronavirus. The facility is backed by a strong donor base, lifting hopes it'll be able to continue performances in the fall.

FAIRFIELD — Most of the shows and events have been either canceled or postponed, some might be rescheduled, others might not.

For now, the show goes on at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.

With its peak season of September to May coming to a close, forcefully because of social distancing, and the lack of mass gatherings due to the rapidly circulating COVID-19 coronavirus, there are some questions about the center and what will happen going forward.

With no idea of what lies ahead, acting executive director Alan Costell is following a simple motto:

“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said. “The one thing you can do wrong is do nothing.”

Costell took over his duties about a month ago and also serves as vice president on the board of directors. Originally, because of orders from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the center had to cancel or postpone shows through April 11, and that will likely extend into May, Costell said.

There are a few recurring events later, such as vendor fairs, that also will likely have to be canceled, but that is not yet official.

And, because the center is a nonprofit, it relies on donors to keep the doors open. Still, Costell has had to lay off employees because of the recent economic downturn, and others have had to take pay cuts to keep the facility running.

“There isn’t one performing arts facility in the country, not here and not even in New York, that is self-supported,” Costell said. “What we have to do is take care of the fires close to here. You try to revamp the schedule by working with promotors and agents, but we’re all sort of in the throes of this. There are more unknowns than knowns.”

The convention center is more than just and entertainment venue. Sure, the 522-seat Stephen Sondheim Center for Performing Arts is the centerpiece to the facility, but the Fairfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is housed there, and the exhibit hall continues to run an intermittent blood drive, for which it will remain open.

“We conduct the blood drive under strict scrutiny and social distancing,” he said. “Usually we don’t have more than six or seven people in there at a time, but there really isn’t another facility in Fairfield to accommodate that.”

The annual homecoming concert series, which takes place in late July and features former residents who went on to theatrical careers, is “sort of on the back burner,” Costell said.

Still, the venue can’t really plan ahead with so many variables out of its control when it comes to the performances themselves as well as when gathering restrictions will be lifted.

“My approach has been just to kind of roll out things as they develop instead of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We let the promoters tell us. Some things we’ve had to push back to September and October, but basically we’re shut down except for essential community services right now.”

Should the social distancing continue for an extended period of time, Costell is optimistic the ACC can survive.

“If, at the end of June, we can go back to normal, then we’re going to get the marketing for the season out there for the 2020-21 season quickly. We have to be able to dictate that response,” Costell said. “But, we may have to revisit this in September if things are the same.

“We have a strong donor base in Fairfield, who will donate under any circumstance, and we’re incredibly fortunate that way,” he said. “I can’t really prognosticate or know what the alternatives would be. It’s my hope that we’d be able to craft solutions outside the box, because this place is more than just an entertainment venue. It’s the heartbeat of the city.”

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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