WAYNE COUNTY, PA — It’s hard to be an event venue when all your events have been canceled. For local places like The Cooperage Project in Honesdale and the Dorflinger-Suydam Wildflower …
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — It’s hard to be an event venue when all your events have been canceled. For local places like The Cooperage Project in Honesdale and the Dorflinger-Suydam Wildflower Amphitheater in White Mills, that’s been the reality for more than a year.
At the offset of a new summer season, things are certainly looking more promising than 2020. The vaccine rollout has inoculated thousands of residents, allowing many to regain some sense of normalcy without worrying about mask-wearing and social distancing, per the CDC’s recent announcement.
In Pennsylvania specifically, Gov. Tom Wolf has increased the limit for indoor gatherings from 25 percent maximum capacity to 50 percent, and increased outdoor gatherings limits from 50 percent to 75 percent. By Memorial Day, Pennsylvania will lift nearly all of its COVID-19 mitigation restrictions, except for the mask-wearing mandate, which will remain in place until 70 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
While all good news for area event space operators, the difficult tasks of revamping their calendars with events and regaining momentum with patrons and volunteers lay ahead.
For The Cooperage, it’s about pivoting. Its schedule cleared of concerts, open mics and the other standard gatherings last year, the downtown nonprofit shifted its focus onto fulfilling one of the most immediate community needs mid-pandemic: access to food. Transforming into something of a community pantry, its Family Food Relief Box Program fed as many 140 families a week last summer. Executive director Arrah Fisher said that the organization streamlined its efforts in January of this year to provide monthly meals for seniors and a SNAP program with the local school district.
Fisher remains as the sole full-time employee due to the pandemic’s financial strains.
For Dorflinger-Suydam—similarly to The Cooperage—musical performance, in the form of the annual Wildflower Music Festival, has always been just one piece of what it offers the community. Given Dorflinger’s wildlife sanctuary and hiking trails, glass museum and various historic sites, executive director Barbara Gilpin said that it caters to a wide audience of patrons.
“We get the outdoor enthusiasts... there’s a lot of history involved, so the history buffs love us for that, and then we have the art enthusiasts who love the music,” Gilpin said. “Part of the benefit [of supporting us] is knowing that you’re sustaining five-plus miles of trails, and the outdoors has never been more important to people than during the pandemic... Our trails got a lot of use; we were a respite.”
The survival of nonprofits relies heavily on membership, donations and volunteers. Maintaining a thriving calendar of events is an important way to maintain all three. Fortunately for both The Cooperage and Dorflinger-Suydam, losing out on a year of programming has not equated to a loss in support.
“We’ve been pretty lucky with people sticking with us,” said Judi Mortensen, music chair and artistic director. “I’m not sure that if we were stuck in a pandemic for another year we’d keep everybody, but we’ve been very fortunate over the past year.”
Fisher said that The Cooperage both maintained the support of its longtime supporters and, through its food relief work, reached potential new patrons who were previously unacquainted with it. The Cooperage is also primed to welcome the influx of city-dwellers who have made NEPA their new home, said Fisher who herself lived in Philadelphia before moving to the area four years ago and joining The Cooperage.
“I remember moving here from Philly, and The Cooperage was like a beacon for me,” she said. “And I think it will continue to be a beacon for newcomers.”
Mortensen, Gilpin and Fisher each share the prediction that community members will be desperate to get out of the house and see some live entertainment this summer. And with restrictions to be lifted, musicians are hungry to get out and perform.
The Wildflower Music Festival recently announced its 2021 lineup, featuring its usual eclectic mix of tribute bands (including Carole King, the Beatles, Beach Boys and Motown), jazz, bluegrass and classical. Mortensen, who has been curating the lineups for decades, said she always aims for variety to appeal to a large swath of the community.
Gilpin said that a glass festival is also in the planning stages to be held this summer, featuring glass blowing, demonstrations, vendors and food trucks.
Fisher said that she’s taking her time before booking as many artists as The Cooperage once did. Right now, she’s focusing on evaluating community needs, “Do the people want us to be having music here almost every weekend like we used to?”
“I don’t know if we’re going to right away get back to every weekend having a concert here,” she said. “We’ll start out small... it seems like every day there’s some new requirement or guidance being put out, so you kind of just have to be versatile.”
To start, The Cooperage is hosting the “Cooped Up” concert series, featuring performances by local artists on the fourth Saturday of each month May through September. It’s also coordinating Farm Arts Collective to host “‘At The Farm,’ connecting the community to local food through engaging and entertaining activities” on the second Saturday of June, July and August at various local farms.
Both nonprofits expressed gratitude to the bevy of community members who volunteer their time and efforts to help events run smoothly.
“We really could not exist without our volunteers,” Gilpin said. Fisher said that The Cooperage’s volunteers are especially energized for this coming summer, one when they’ll be more vital than ever.
More information about the Wildflower Music Festival is available on its Facebook page and at www.wildflowermusic.org. Information and updates about the coming months are available on The Cooperage Project’s Facebook page and at www.thecooperageproject.org. Fisher also said that she’s welcoming community input about what residents would like to see The Cooperage focus on this summer.