DIY Sanitizer, Cautious Plans: Bay Area Arts Groups Tackle Coronavirus Worries

Jordan Battle cleans surfaces in the lobby at Z Space. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

Jordan Battle doesn’t ordinarily spend a chunk of her day spritzing and wiping down furniture at Z Space, the San Francisco performing arts venue where she serves as patron services manager.

"I will do the lobby, our bar, our conference room," she says, gamely applying cleaning agent and elbow grease to the many bar tables and stools dotted across the Z Space lobby. "I wipe down the seats in the theater. We'll do all of our doors upstairs. And then I go downstairs and do our smaller theater."

With the struggle to slow the spread of COVID-19 causing many public events across the Bay Area to be postponed or canceled, ranging from performances in San Francisco of Hamilton to the Islamic Cultural Center’s Nowruz Celebration in Oakland, arts and culture groups like Z Space are fighting to keep up with the upheaval.

For now, the venue is staying open for business. And that, Battle says, means making audiences feel safe. So it’s all hands on deck with the stepped-up swabbing routine.

"Live theater is important," Battle says. "Making sure that for as long as you can, you keep that accessible to people, until someone says you have to stop."

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The staff at The New Parkway movie theater in Oakland have gotten creative when it comes to upping their hygiene standards.

Community outreach manager Carlos Courtade says price gouging and short supply have made it hard to get hold of hand sanitizer.

"So we've kind of had to engineer some of our own," he says.

His team Googled a DIY recipe. Most YouTube videos prescribe a mixture of rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel.

"You go you can find everything online," Courtade says. "We didn't have to go to The Anarchist Cookbook for that one."

Courtade says The New Parkway is a much-needed hub for locals to get together and relax in these challenging times. It’s also a lifeline for the people who work there.

"A lot of us are kind of living check-to-check," he says. "So a prolonged closure would definitely have some effects on the day-to-day lives of many of the people that work here."

Faced with a great deal of unpredictability, organizations are having to remain flexible.

Oakland Museum of California director Lori Fogarty says her museum is currently committed to staying open. But it just had to cancel upcoming special events in response to a recommendation from Alameda County officials. (Update: The Oakland Museum of California will be closed to the public through March 27.)

"It's just not knowing, that's the greatest uncertainty," she says. "I don't think it's going to be over any time in the next week or so. So that's what we're bracing for."

The potential longer term fallout is causing major worries.

In San Francisco, a significant portion of arts funding comes from the city's hotel tax fund. The recent cancelation and postponement of a slew of Moscone Center conventions as the result of the coronavirus—amounting to a total estimated loss of nearly $180 million so far according to the city's visitors bureau, SFTravel—is likely to have a negative effect on cultural organizations down the line.

"The loss of revenue, whether in direct spending or hotel tax revenue, which funds Grants for the Arts, is going to be significant," says SFTravel spokeswoman Laurie Armstrong Gossy. "It's too early to speculate on exactly how much it will be."

Elsewhere around the Bay, creative groups are also bracing themselves for potential financial hardships.

Usha Srinivasan, the founder and president of Sangam Arts, a multicultural performing arts company based in Silicon Valley, says her group has already had to cancel a couple of grant-funded events, which could impact its relationship with funders.

"We may have to sit out the next grant cycle because we haven't fulfilled our current grant obligations," she says. "Right now, given both the stock market slump as well as the general mood and potential for a coronavirus-triggered recession, the arts are going to be impacted badly."