Arts department programming postponed, adapting


JASPER — Kyle Rupert, the Jasper Arts director, knows that when we’re told to stay at home or to isolate, we turn to the arts for entertainment, comfort and exploration.

The novel coronavirus has disrupted the city’s arts department programming. But while some events have been canceled or postponed, others have been reworked and will live on in new ways.

“The COVID-19 situation has definitely forced us — like a lot of other departments, and businesses, and municipalities and arts venues — to kind of turn on a dime,” Rupert said Tuesday.

This means focusing efforts on doing what needs to be done in the short-term to ensure the safety of staff and patrons, while also assessing the impact on events and activities for the months ahead.

Rupert explained that, in some respects, the local outfit was fortunate in the timing of the pandemic. It surfaced after the group’s public, 12-show performance season ended. That said, the spring and summer months were set to be filled with Jasper Arts Center rentals.

Many have been canceled. And a lot of other gatherings in the space have been postponed.

“Those renters had to make some tough choices,” Rupert said. “And I applaud them for the decisions that they’ve made. And I respect what they’re going through and what they went through.”

He said the department is doing “everything we can to work with those renters who want to try to find alternative dates” and fit them into the calendar. Art exhibits that were set to open in the arts center’s Krempp Gallery have also been pushed back. Actors Community Theatre’s production of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical” was bumped from July to summer 2021, and ACT members are currently rehearsing their rendition of “Escanaba in da Moonlight” remotely without a run date.

Per Gov. Eric Holcomb’s five-stage reopening plan, cultural institutions and venues like the local center are permitted to open at 50% capacity, following social distancing guidelines, on June 14. The arts center could open to full capacity, still following those guidelines, on July 4.

Rupert explained that the center’s reopening plans will firm up as time progresses and more clarity is achieved. The next performance season is slated to begin in late September.

But even now, arts-related operations are continuing.

“The arts are still important,” Rupert said. “Our challenge is, how do we provide that opportunity in this environment? And so we’ve had to navigate those waters and make those changes as best we can.”

The city’s 17th annual Chalk Walk event — which is usually held on the Courthouse Square and is one of the biggest gatherings every year for the department — will be held this month in a virtual format.

Rebranded as a “Chalk Your Walk” festival, participants are encouraged to decorate their sidewalks, driveways or fences while practicing social distancing. Once their creations are completed, artists are to snap a picture of their work by Friday, May 29, and email it to

Those photos will then be posted to the Jasper Community Arts Facebook page for judging. The contest’s winners will receive gift card prizes and free Papa John’s pizza coupons for their efforts.

Those wanting to pick up a complimentary box of chalk to use for the virtual event can do so by accessing a drive-thru station that will be set up at the arts center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, or while supplies last. Guests are instructed to enter from Third Street and proceed to the front of the building under the awning by the Krempp Gallery entrance, before exiting to Meridian Avenue.

“There is so much planning that goes into an event like Chalk Walk,” Rupert said. “And this year’s going to be a big one, too. We’re expecting pretty big participation this year, even though it’s virtual. But we’re really excited to be able to still provide a Chalk Walk experience, but in a way that is safe for everyone.”

In addition to reworking Chalk Walk, department leadership is also looking into retooling its Summer ARTventures workshops so they can continue in safe ways. The department’s social media pages are also filled with links to livestreaming events and at-home craft tutorials.

“We haven’t stopped,” Rupert said of the team’s outreach. “We’ve just had to shift where that’s available. It’s not like we haven’t been doing any work. We have had to take what we can provide and what we find, and try to offer that to the community.”

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