Teaching artist Andrew Alli, foreground, and artistic director Jontavious Willis are among the Acoustic Blues festival faculty who’ve had their contracts deferred to 2021. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Teaching artist Andrew Alli, foreground, and artistic director Jontavious Willis are among the Acoustic Blues festival faculty who’ve had their contracts deferred to 2021. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Centrum faces the new reality

Annual programs suspended until 2021

PORT TOWNSEND — This will be a summer like none before at Fort Worden State Park.

Centrum, nonprofit producer of art and music workshops and festivals, is suspending its busiest season until 2021, executive director Robert Birman announced this week: Voice Works in June, Fiddle Tunes, the Writers’ Conference and Jazz Port Townsend in July and the Acoustic Blues festival in August will all wait for next year.

Meantime, a newly formed task force will look at some kind of summertime programming at the fort, Birman said. The team of Centrum programmers and local artists is set to brainstorm ideas such as an expanded Free Fridays at the Fort concert series and outdoor movies there — possibly on big screens that have just been donated to Centrum.

“One of the screens is 55 feet wide. That’s wider than McCurdy [Pavilion] is tall,” Birman said, referring to the fort’s largest concert venue.

Come September, the Port Townsend Ukulele Festival could yet happen.

“We are still hoping Ukulele and the fall events will go on,” said Birman said.

Another, albeit smaller-scale, program to look forward to: Every fall, Centrum hosts open-studio days with its artists in residence. These events at Fort Worden are open to the public, allowing the art-curious to see what visual artists have created during their monthlong stays.

Centrum has opened a call for applications to the October Emerging Artists Residency program, said manager Michelle Hagewood. Details are at Centrum.org; April 30 is the deadline to apply.

Centrum’s website will also have updates about spring and summer events open to the public. Its Communiversity lecture series, begun this year, features an April 13 online discussion with Cornell Ornithology Lab NestWatch project leader Robyn Bailey. Tickets are $25 at Centrum.org for the 5:30 p.m. event.

As for Centrum’s administrative staff and production crew, Birman said 40 percent of the workforce is placed on standby; he anticipates further workforce reductions in May, after the staff responds to participants who have already signed up for this spring and summer’s workshops. The summer chamber music performances with the Miro Quartet and Callisto Trio have already been rescheduled for fall and winter, with tickets to be honored on those new dates. Centrum’s choro workshop and concerts are rescheduled for next year, so ticket holders will receive refunds.

Hagewood and Birman acknowledged this is an exceedingly difficult time for Centrum’s musicians, workshop participants, service vendors and concert-goers — the thousands of people who come to Fort Worden from around the globe. All of the workshop and festival teaching artists have been invited to defer their contracts for 2021, Birman said, and “virtually everyone has agreed to that.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped clean the calendars of artists the world over, he noted.

Hagewood, for her part, believes in Port Townsend’s arts community.

“We’re having conversations with artists and arts administrators in town … We’re trying to look at ways to support artists,” she said. Community members can reach Hagewood and the Centrum team via [email protected] and 360-385-3102.

“We’ve got to mourn the closing of the summer program,” she said, “before we give birth to something new.”


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.

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