Portsmouth’s business community likely will need two to three years to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the city’s hard-hit arts scene, the assistant mayor predicted.
Late last week, the Prescott Park Arts Festival’s board of directors announced the cancellation of the 2020 summer season after it determined that smaller, socially distanced crowds or a partial season would not cover the program’s cost.
The festival, which features more than 90 diverse arts events, draws nearly 250,000 people each season, according to its website. People typically are asked for a voluntary donation at the gate.
Organizers expect to forgo more than $1 million in revenue from the cancellation.
Other parts of Portsmouth’s vibrant arts scene are currently closed because of limits on large gatherings. They are suffering financially while trying to provide entertainment during the stay-at-home order, according to organizers.
The Music Hall on Chestnut Street will not reopen until it is “prudent and safe,” according to its website.
The Music Hall is offering free streaming services in partnership with The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, National Theatre Live, Exhibition on Screen and the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra.
Seacoast Repertory Theatre on Bow Street is not holding any events until further notice. They now have a free 24-hour radio station, a ticketed live-streaming service and continued content on their Patreon page for a monthly donation, according to the website.
Sara O’Reilly, a marketing manager at 3S Artspace on Vaughan Street, announced last week that they have created a way for people to experience their postponed “Life is Drag” exhibit virtually while the gallery is closed.
“The artist Rachel Rampleman worked with so many regional artists, and we just simply needed a way to get it all out there now as something to raise spirits, connect to our community and champion for support of artists and nonprofits like 3S,” O’Reilly said.
Jim Splaine, assistant mayor of Portsmouth, said the loss of Prescott Park Arts Festival this season is “devastating to our city.”
Splaine said that when people travel to Portsmouth for events in Prescott Park, they shop downtown and eat at locally owned restaurants.
Splaine said COVID-19’s impact on the arts community in Portsmouth will affect all businesses, which are heavily dependent on visitors from within New Hampshire, the region and the world. Two million of Portsmouth’s four million annual visitors travel to the city during the summer months .
“We have to reinvent our economy,” Splaine said. “This is a different world, economically and socially. People will be maintaining social distancing for a long time. Even after then, people will be hesitant to shake hands again.”
Splaine and the other members of Portsmouth’s Economic Development Commission met virtually Friday morning.
Portsmouth Health Officer Kim McNamara said during the meeting that COVID-19 still presents many unknowns, but she offered suggestions for how some nonessential businesses and nonprofit organizations might potentially reopen.
“Art galleries could require masks for staff and customers, keep people at a good distance and use only non-cash transactions, but until we start very slowly and watch the data intensely, we’re not going to know if the precautions are fully safe,” McNamara said.
McNamara said without a vaccine, effective treatments or readily available widespread testing, “it’s a bit of a shot in the dark to be reopening the economy.”
“We are just entering the sixth month of getting to know this virus, and the unknowns are still overwhelming. Making the wrong decisions now could have disastrous effects to our population now and in the long term,” McNamara said.
Portsmouth leaders have been working on plans to open downtown shops and offer socially distanced seated dining at restaurants.