September 23, 2020

Dr. Gerd Wuestemann, President & CEO of Scottsdale Arts. Photo: Chris Loomis.

We’re Back . . . and We Never Really Stopped!

We will all remember 2020 for some time to come. I can’t help but to think that 2020 will forever embody both hindsight and vision.

Scottsdale Arts started 2020 with unbridled optimism, continuing a season of great success, renewed excitement, world-class performances, record attendance, greater diversity, and more equitable access to arts experiences for the entire community. We had recently celebrated Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s 20th anniversary with exciting exhibitions, a city proclamation, and a glamorous Scottsdale Arts Gala honoring seven extraordinary individuals, whose vision created SMoCA in 1999. Our Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation team had begun a clinical trial with Banner Health, in addition to working with more than 30,000 students in our public schools. Scottsdale Public Art had installed some ambitious projects, and Canal Convergence had received a prestigious international award in advance of bringing in nearly 300,000 attendees—a new record. Scottsdale Arts was recognized as a Sterling Awards runner up, and we were a Governor’s Arts Awards finalist, awaiting the final awards ceremony.

Perhaps most importantly, we had managed a remarkable financial turnaround: after many years of missed budgets and deficits, we implemented clean-sheet practices, right-sized our operations, significantly lowered our administrative overhead, worked toward a surplus, and built up much-needed cash reserves. This long overdue fiscal turnaround proved to be critical in 2020. On March 12, COVID-19 became a pandemic, and we were forced to shut down what was to be the 50th anniversary of our Scottsdale Arts Festival. Little did we know that we would remain shuttered for many months to come.

Overnight, 2020 became a year of unprecedented challenges. And it became a year that proved the extraordinary resilience of our staff. Within days, we successfully pivoted to remote work, set in motion virtual programming through blogs and livestreams, and started working toward a possible fall season. Over the following months, we updated and improved our facilities, stockpiled personal protective equipment, and readied our venues for a safe reopening. We evaluated ways to protect cash flow and secure future funding. Our cash reserves, combined with Paycheck Protection Program funding, allowed us to keep our entire staff employed throughout this crisis (unique among arts nonprofits) and still retain re-start capital. We kept our investments in a downed market and have seen a remarkable rebound since. As a result, we are exiting this pandemic in the strongest cash position in more than 20 years—much needed in order to tackle a challenging 2020–21 season.

Clearly, we never stopped working and serving this community. And now, as we are seeing some hope on the horizon, and as Arizona is managing the crisis well, we are back to doing what we are here to do in the first place: reconnect our community through great arts experiences, carefully, safely, and creatively. We are getting back to presenting great arts experiences and serving this wonderful and resilient community. After rebooking more than 150 events, we are excited about all the safeguards we implemented, allowing us to become one of the very few arts organizations ready to present a fall 2020 season. Our prerogative is to

put safety first and remain both responsible and responsive. We have redesigned our work in schools, enabling us to provide virtual arts education until the system reopens. We redeveloped Canal Convergence into a safe and distanced event, allowing visitors to explore artworks on bikes or from their vehicles across Old Town Scottdale. With planned outdoor events, our audiences can celebrate some of the world’s greatest performers safely under starry desert skies. At the same time, our distancing and sanitation measures, mask mandates, and limited seating capacities allow patrons to see world-class jazz, dance, and chamber music in the intimate setting of our beautiful theater. Timed entry and distancing also allows for visitors to enjoy an entirely new set of exhibitions at SMoCA this fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic and increased visibility of civil rights protests have changed us all. It is in times like these that the arts provide hope, give perspective, create community, and inspire. We are optimistic about turning a corner on COVID-19 and that our upcoming events reunite us as a people, bringing us renewed peace and calm.

We hope to see you back on our campus soon or at one of the many virtual events we will continue to provide to our community. Thank you for your patronage and support; we could not be here without you!

— Dr. Gerd Wuestemann, President & CEO, Scottsdale Arts

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