Beck Center for the Arts – powering through the pandemic

The Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood, OH has a long history through the decades. It’s served the community in times of war, recession, renovations, and now the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the past year of social distancing and remote learning, the faculty and staff of this west-side arts mecca has continued to offer “comprehensive, curriculum-based arts education spans topics such as creative arts therapies, dance, music, theater, and visual arts, and serves over 60,000 annually in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, Medina, and Summit Counties.”

In the spirit of keeping creativity accessible to children, teens, and adults, the Board of Directors and Beck team have updated their methods of teaching, but eagerly await the return to in-person experiences.

Scott Spence (Artistic Director – now in his 30th season with Beck Center), Ed Gallagher (Director of Education), and Dena Adler (Director of Development) are reflecting on this past year. With the help of Julie Gilliland (Director of Marketing), these dedicated staff members share some of those thoughts.

Kate Klotzbach: About how many students do you usually have active in person (all ages), versus now with the pandemic in virtual events or smaller face-to-face options?

Ed Gallagher: During this time of year Beck Center usually welcomes nearly 800 individuals to be enrolled in over 1,600 classes, lessons and various programs on our campus. This year we have been running at approximately 60% of that number between in-person and online classes.

Between creative arts therapies and outreach we traditionally serve an additional 1,500 individuals in the community. That number is a fraction of what it has been in recent years due to schools being remote and not doing fieldtrips, early childhood centers unable to welcome guests and senior living facilities bringing in only their dedicated front-line staff.

KMK: How are classes held now? How have your students acclimated?

EG: Classes are being held through two different modalities – in-person on our campus and remotely through synchronous learning. The vast majority of our students have chosen to enroll in our in-person classes where we have limited class size to 9 individuals with spaces clearly marked in each classroom and lengthy cleaning protocols that meet CDC and ODE standards. Students have adjusted well, follow the protocols, and are thrilled to be in the studio learning side-by-side with their friends and peers.

Those that have chosen to stay remote have also adapted well. They chose distance learning for a wide variety of reasons and we are thrilled to be able to meet their needs online. Students of all ages have done well acclimating to the lag in conversation and the glitches that come with using technology.

Both styles have been very successful and met the needs of our students and families.

KMK: What are some unique challenges faced by your faculty/staff, and how are they overcoming them?

EG: There are a few challenges at the top of the list that include the wearing of masks, social distancing, and overall reshaping of classroom and teaching techniques. As you can imagine, teaching in a mask brings a unique set of challenges as they limit facial expression, limit breathing, and dampen the voice. We have added wireless/headset mics to all dance studio to overcome sound barriers. Our teachers, like many in the classroom have had to show enhanced reaction with their eyes and through enhanced body movement and added voice inflection. 

Teaching in a mask is an acquired skill which requires breath control and making it a norm – just like for all of us. Teaching in the world of social distancing has been a challenge in all art forms.

We gather together in the arts, we work together in all art forms, and we share spaces and resources. This took time to get used to and it continues to be something to work through – both in-person and online which is the ultimate in social distancing. Finally, all of our teachers are adapting their teaching techniques which, for many, have been engrained through a lifetime of teaching. Our faculty have adapted how they direct classes, how they use space, even positive reinforcement is different – no high-fives or handshakes! There was a learning curve that I am proud to say all of our faculty worked through quickly and creatively to provide the best learning experience for our students.

KMK: What is a new program for you that’s come out of the pandemic?

EG: Online programming is completely new to us. This broke through the new frontier in the spring when we took 18 classes online. Two of our staff, Sarah Clare and Jessica McGrath, led the way with getting onto Zoom, Google Classroom and FlipGrid. This 6-week run allowed us to be ready for a robust summer and fall with camps, classes, lessons and more. There’s also an outgrowth of this is a new collaborative partnership with Fairmount Center for the Arts and Valley Arts Center. We’ve provided 6 online classes this winter where we share a faculty member to teach the classes, and students enroll through their local arts organization. This will bring about new opportunities for students to experience classes with robust enrollment and continued employment for our faculty… it is a complete win!

KMK: What programs have you canceled that you’ll can’t wait to bring back once the remote / social distance guidelines have been lifted?

EG: We all look forward to live onstage performances coming back to Beck Center that feature those in our education programs. Our students crave taking their newly acquired skills form the classroom and sharing them with family, friends, and the community through youth theater performances, ballet productions such as The Nutcracker, and music recitals. We can’t wait until this fall when Razzle Dazzle, a twenty-year collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, gets back on stage with program participants and community volunteers.

KMK: Are there plans for a live theatre “season” coming up? Tell me about your Spring/Summer plans for shows, events, and classes.

Scott Spence: While we are keeping options open for producing Something Rotten live as our summer musical (postponed from summer of 2020), we feel like we’re going to have to wait awhile until the state knows more about the vaccine regimen. Prior to summer, we have some great irons in the fire.

In February, the Beck / Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre collaboration went forward… albeit virtual, with our presentation of 5 World Premiere Musicals co-partnering with NAMT (National Alliance of Musical Theatre).

March 5-28 is the On Demand concert given by Beck alums who have had national success (B’Way, national tours etc).

April/May will bring us one or two more On Demand video offerings still TBD. And should we need to go virtual even into the summer, well we’ll do just that! I think we all feel like the next few weeks are going to tell us so much more regarding what can and cannot be accomplished… especially for the summer months. Until then, Beck is always prepared to pivot whichever way we need to. The end is in sight… though the finish line is still murky. We are grateful for the support of our Board and all our constituents during this crazy time. We are blessed.

KMK: How can the community support Beck Center at this time?

Dena Adler: Beck Center for the Arts is possible because our community has stood by us, most especially during this pandemic. Beck Center would like to thank our community for being there for us, and for their generous gifts to our annual fund, as well as to our capital improvements. Beck Center relies on support, and a commitment from our parents, patrons, donors and friends, to make the arts accessible to all people. If you have not made a donation and would like to do so, please check out our website at beckcenter.org/give – all gifts large and small are critical to the future of Beck Center!

For more information on Beck Center classes and other virtual offerings, visit www.beckcenter.org.

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