The arts and culture scene is as much a part of summer in the Tahoe/Truckee region as the lakes, rivers, and trails that countless thousands of visitors come to enjoy. As the onset of COVID-19 essentially brought life as we knew it to a screeching halt in mid-March, the outlook for a season full of art and music was grim. Now, six months into the pandemic, things aren’t looking much better.

For nearly two decades, InnerRhythms Performing Arts Center has introduced the world of dance to students young and old, some of whom went on to become professional dancers. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the studio was able to introduce to the performing arts students who otherwise might not have been able to afford classes disciplines ranging from ballet and jazz to hip hop and theater. The studio recently announced, however, that it has gone dark, another victim of the pandemic.

“When I founded InnerRhythms alongside co-founder Sheri Woodsgreen, our vision was to serve the community through the performing arts,” the Truckee studio’s Elizabeth Archer wrote in an email to Moonshine Ink. “As a not-for-profit organization, we have been able to procure grant funding and host tax-deductible fundraising events that support the youth of our community. Our intention has always been to give back.”

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As COVID closures began to go into effect, InnerRhythms found itself completely shut down on March 16, with several theatrical/dance productions slated for April, May, and June also canceled. With continued expenses but no tuition coming in, the future did not bode well for the dance studio. Most devastating, said Archer, was the cancellation of their annual signature fundraiser, Dancing With Our Sierra Stars, in May.

“By June, we knew we could no longer continue to put the organization into further debt,” Archer explained. “We could not pay rent or our amazing instructors (this was the hardest of all). As a not-for-profit, we could not receive PPE and did not want to jeopardize the organization further by taking out an SBA loan with no means of paying that back.”

The studio did receive a mini grant through the Nevada County Relief Fund, Archer said, noting that the funds went directly to InnerRhythms’ instructors to help honor a commitment to their contracts through part of April.

“It was sad and emotional for our entire board of directors,” Archer said of the decision to close InnerRhythms, which in July had just celebrated its 19th anniversary and was going strong prior to COVID. “We are beyond proud of what we have been able to offer the youth and adults of our community by helping them express themselves through movement in a safe, inclusive, family-oriented environment for nearly two decades.”

For Archer, knowing she has played a part in some of her students going on to become professional dancers over the years is a “magical” feeling, and she has stayed in touch with the studio’s alumni dancers over the years.

“It is an honor and a privilege to have walked the path beside them for a time,” she said. “It is also emotional because I feel like each of them are part of me.”

As founding artistic director and a classical ballet teacher for nearly two decades, Archer is proud of the foundation, longevity, and reputation that was laid for the performing arts center.

“I believe that grace has guided us through every step of the journey,” she said. “In a literal sense, we have honored the definition daily: beauty of form; movement; or manner. In a spiritual sense, I believe we have followed a divine path. I have been inspired by our young dancers, our gifted teachers and choreographers, our parents and family members that have graced our beloved studio and our stage. I am filled with pride for our returning alumni. It is through this grace that I offer my profound gratitude to all that have embarked on this journey with me by providing their time, talent, and immeasurable treasures.”

Although InnerRhythms closed its doors, Archer looks forward to some reincarnation of the nonprofit in the future.

“Our intention for InnerRhythms is to continue as a not-for-profit arts advocate in our community,” she said. “Our focus will continue to be to support young performing artists through scholarships, programs, and projects. We intend to hold fundraisers and productions once it becomes safe and comfortable for us all to get back together as a community.”

On another performance front, Truckee Community Theater is funded primarily through ticket sales. TCT puts on four main stage productions, including a teen musical, the 10-Minute Play Festival, an adult or family musical, and a play. The theater typically produces a holiday play or musical as well. Without productions, however, there are no ticket sales and the show won’t go on.

MONSTER MASH: Truckee Community Theater summer campers take a lunch break during practice for their performance of Little Monsters. Courtesy photo

“When the [stay-at-home] order was issued for California, TCT was just a week from opening our winter production of Steel Magnolias,” theater director Carrie Haines told Moonshine Ink. “The only production that opened in 2020 was our teen musical in January. All other productions have been shut down. In addition, we had to cancel all spring classes and our spring break camp. Summer camps were allowed to run, but with less than half the normal attendance and outdoors to allow for a safer environment.”

At this point, Haines said TCT still has no indication of when it might be able to resume live on-stage performances.

“It could look very different for a very long time,” she explained. “Normally, TCT main stage performances house an audience at the Community Arts Center of up to 220. Right now, we can’t have more than 10 in a room.”

Fundraising efforts were also totally halted as a result of the pandemic. Most of the local service groups and grant providers that help TCT annually declared that performing arts were not consider “essential” and therefore there would be no funding for TCT in 2020, Haines said. Forced to think on a grander scale, the Dream Big Project was born.

“My dream for Truckee Community Theater is to grow our annual budget from $60,000 to $500,000 in the next five years,” Haines said of the project. “… TCT would have its own studio space and eventually its own theater space … My personal mission is to create and grow a school of performing arts that offers classes and workshops to children and adults of all ages. In addition, we would offer a four-year college-prep curriculum for high school students who plan to pursue dramatic arts in college. Currently, our high schools do not offer anything like this.”

TCT presently has a partnership with the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District and uses classroom space at the CAC for its school of performing arts. TDRPD takes 30% of all registration fees they collect. TCT gets 70%, which is used to pay instructors as well as cover costs. They also rent the stage for performances.

“Sadly, the effects of this pandemic on the arts will be catastrophic. Many companies will close for good. Many are out of work,” Haines said. She described the challenge for social distancing, saying theater is “bigger than the actors on the stage or in front of the camera. There are stage workers, lighting crew, sound technicians, costume designers, set designers, stagehands, and camera crew to consider … There is no word on when things will return to ‘normal.’”

For students around the region, this schoolyear will look anything but normal. Every September, over 500 third grade students from California and Nevada are delighted with a field trip to Sand Harbor for The Dreaming Tree, presented by Trails and Vistas. Following a mission of celebrating the arts and nature, Trails and Vistas presents these interactive art hikes that include music, poetry, storytelling, environmental studies, and visual art.

With COVID-19 protocols still in place, however, The Dreaming Tree won’t happen. Neither will the Truckee Historical Haunted Tour, a performance art tour that blends history and fiction, leading guests to a number of locations along Truckee’s Commercial Row. It’s the biggest annual fundraiser for Trails and Vistas, which also holds art hikes at various locations throughout the year.

“Our nonprofit organization survived this year financially because we received a grant from the California Arts Council to support our art and cultural programs for our community and visitors,” explained Trails and Vistas board president Jean Fournier. “We lost all of our earned ticket revenue for a full year, which is over 50% of our annual budget.”

As soon as this year’s in-person art events were postponed, focus shifted and Trails & Vistas founder Nancy Lopez created  Adopt an Artist Fund to help support independent artists. Donations from $10 to $1,000 soon came in from folks close to home and as far as Los Angeles and even Shiner, Texas. By the end of May, over $3,000 was donated, with funds going to Trails and Vistas independent artists to keep creating for the art in nature events.

DREAM ON: Trails and Vistas’ The Dreaming Tree field trip, presented annually for third grade students from throughout the region, won’t be happening this year due to COVID-19 restrictions that remain in place. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

In June, Lopez again shifted focus and went to work producing and filming a virtual art hike movie. She collaborated with about a dozen artists to create the film, showcasing visual and performance art at four art hike trail locations.

“Truckee is a designated California Arts and Culture District and local artists and art organizations need our support right now,” Lopez said. “Arts are essential. Purchasing a ticket to view Trails and Vistas’ virtual art hike film, Full Circle, is parallel to buying a take-out meal to help a local restaurant remain in business.”

Tickets for the film are available online at trailsandvistas.org. Supporters will receive a link via email to view the film at home on or after Sept. 18. Tickets for students are $15, family/adult tickets are $20. If 500 people purchase a $20 film ticket, the nonprofit would raise $10,000.

Trails and Vistas plans to shift back to an in-person experience in 2021 for all events.

“I believe the social function of art is an important element of the art hikes, taking the artist as art object maker to guide to enhance a sense of connection to place and people,” Lopez said. “Our art and culture events offer experiences about life, nature, and being a member of a group. The experience is created when you can feel the boulder, smell the pines, and be a few steps away from the musician. Out in nature is where the magic happens, and we look forward to exploring the arts in nature when it is safe to do so.” 

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