Our Opinion: Berkshire culturals taking virus hit

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Spring was in the air Thursday, offering reminders of the summer to come. But the summer is uncertain for the cultural institutions that define the Berkshires and are a backbone for its economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has already hurt those institutions that are open year round and theater groups are bracing for shorter seasons — if not worse. That would make it an empty summer for residents and visitors already straining this month under the social isolation needed to slow the spread of the virus.

Layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts are the primary tools employed to cut costs at the cultural destinations. "It's misery," said Joseph Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, with words echoed by other cultural leaders. Those left on the job, many working from home, explore options for reopening whenever that may be possible. A couple of theaters, Barrington Stage and Berkshire Theatre Group, have managed to avoid job cuts but acknowledge that the situation is fluid.

The Norman Rockwell Museum has cut its workforce, reduced pay to those remaining and trimmed overhead, but Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt says this won't be enough. The state and federal government must pitch in, and any stimulus packages must be targeted at small institutions that have a big impact within their communities. Cultural institutions aside, low- to middle-income workers who are laid off or lost their jobs entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic must be high priorities for government assistance.

What Ms. Moffatt refers to as "the generous donor community" has long been the financial backbone for Berkshire cultural groups and they will be asked to dig deep. That group consists of small businesses, large corporations, foundations, second-home owners, tourists and local patrons who invest in the Berkshires by contributing to Berkshire theaters, museums, and musical organizations. When these organizations are thriving, so are Berkshire restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, hotels and motels.

Barrington Stage founder Julianne Boyd, a self-described "cockeyed optimist," told The Eagle that June's shows are still on the schedule. Optimists are valuable these days, and we look forward to the day, whenever it comes, when Berkshire theaters, museums and concert venues are again packed with happy patrons.

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