With fewer seats and high hopes, Barrington Stage preps for August return

Rows of chairs are removed from Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage in Pittsfield on Thursday to allow for social distancing when performances begin this summer. Those patrons will encounter a new set of protocols tailored to fit the age of the coronavirus, said Director of Marketing and Communications Jonathan H d.

Cultural institutions in the Berkshires and around the state have a tough road ahead of them dealing with the impact of COVID-19. Financial assistance in reopening after several dormant months would make that road a little easier to travel.

That is the goal of a $75 million emergency relief fund that will be distributed through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. ("They need help': Berkshire lawmakers sponsor relief bill for arts, culture groups," Eagle, June 9.) It is co-sponsored in the House by State Reps. John Barrett III of North Adams and William "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox.

The cultural institutions that have been deprived of ticket revenue for months can't just open their doors and let people in. New state regulations on social distancing, sanitizing and hygiene must be implemented by museums and theaters. Barrington Stage in Pittsfield had to remove seats at its main stage to go from from 520 to 163 to meet social distancing requirements for its planned reopening, and at some point the theater company will be reinstalling them.

When the cultural venues reopen, even with limits on the number of patrons allowed, it will give a boost to the nearby restaurants and lodging establishments that are also slowly reopening under Gov. Baker's phased plan to restart the economy. That means the $75 million will have an impact beyond the cultural venues themselves.

The $75 million is relatively modest given the impact on the venues of COVID-19 but the state has a number of obligations to meet and faces a decline in tax revenue. We urge our federal legislative delegation to push for financial help for cultural institutions.

The bill is currently with the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, and committee member Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier told Eagle State House reporter Danny Jin that she anticipates a hearing on the bill within a week. Ideally the cultural venues will be allowed to make their case before the committee. State Sen. Adam Hinds, a Pittsfield Democrat and the state Senate's point person on reopening and recovery, said financial assistance for cultural venues will be factored into the economic development bill to be taken up in July.

Berkshire cultural institutions are grateful for the many gifts and grants they have received to help pay the bills and keep as many employees as possible on the payroll. Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson numbers 1,700 gifts for the North Adams museum. Far more money is needed, however, and this is where the state and ideally federal governments must step up.

While the Berkshires rely heavily on the cultural economy there is no region of the state that doesn't host cultural venues that have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. We urge lawmakers across Massachusetts to support the economic assistance bill for cultural institutions brought forward by the Berkshire legislative delegation.