I’ll never forget the sinking feeling I experienced on March 12 while sitting alone in my office at Ballet Arkansas. With news updates circulating from all sources regarding the COVID-19 virus, I was deliberating one of the toughest decisions a nonprofit organization like ours can make: the decision to cancel future performances. 

At the time, our 15 professional dancers were rehearsing “Confetti,” a masterpiece by Gerald Arpino, one of the founders of the Joffrey Ballet. Charthel Estner, a famed former-ballerina, was visiting from California to stage the work. In addition to “Confetti,” the dancers had spent the last six weeks rehearsing two highly anticipated world premieres and a full-length production of “Snow White.” 

It seemed at first glance that all was well in the studio that Friday afternoon, but as the dancers rehearsed, pouring their heart and soul into the steps, I was making the very difficult decision to take their coveted performances away from them. Simply put, I was heartbroken. 

Nevertheless the choice was clear. We are in the business of gathering folks together to experience the beauty of the performing arts, and gathering together is not advisable right now. That afternoon, I posted the cancellation of our children’s series production of “Snow White,” and just a few days later I cancelled our Master/Works program. 

It took me nearly a week to rebound after making the call to cancel. I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of me. Not only had I just given our dancers disappointing news they’d never expected to hear, but I then sent them home for the remainder of the season, with pay. I did this for their safety. After all, we cannot rehearse while observing social distancing. 

Our organization has been a pillar of the Arkansas arts community for 41 years, but in the grand scheme of things, seniority doesn’t play a role in our stability. Any nonprofit could face its demise at any moment. We do what we love to do at the expense of the struggle. We bear the weight of uncertainty knowing we provide a vital service to our community and state. We are able to do this because of the extraordinary generosity from many businesses, individuals and partners who believe in who we are and what we strive to accomplish. 

Although in the short-term, we’ve endured a significant loss of income in the area of $30,000, we find hope in our mission: to provide world-class dance performances and education programs to Arkansas and beyond. Where there is strife, hardship or sorrow, beauty is most needed. The arts are a powerful rehabilitative tool when times are tough, and with the love and support of our community, arts organizations like ours will play a critical role in our renewal as a city and state. 

We and our peers are facing unimaginable odds as we continue to pursue planning consecutive seasons. We can’t be certain what the timeline looks like or when it will be safe to hold performances again. Many of us are resorting to live-streaming in the interim, but there is no substitution for live performance. 

Looking back, I want to thank every sponsor, patron and attendee for supporting our organization and others as we imagine the future of the cultural ecosystem of the state. I want to thank every volunteer and staff member passionately working behind the scenes to facilitate our missions. You are invaluable, critical and appreciated more than you'll ever know. Now more than ever, we need your support and the support of others like you. 

While the lights on the stage may be out for the time being, the lights in our offices remain on late into the night, and the lights in our hearts will never burn out. 


Michael Fothergill is the executive and artistic director of Ballet Arkansas.

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