Orlando – Orlando was really built on performances and the arts, beginning with Walt Disney World. Now it goes so far beyond the parks, with world-class performing arts groups and arts of all kinds that rival those of any major city in the United States.
But now they're in danger, and there's no telling how well any of those organizations will make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s where people like Brendan Lynch come in. Lynch is a shareholder at Lowndes Law Firm, but it’s his love of the arts that has earned him a nomination as one of our heroes.
“Last year I took over as chair for the board for United Arts of Central Florida,” said Lynch. “United Arts is the sort of largest funding organization of over 60 arts organizations in Central Florida.”
Those organizations include some as widely known as the Orlando Science Center, the Opera Orlando and the Orlando Ballet, but also include so many smaller groups you may not be as aware of.
"Do we know about Timucua and the performances that they put on every weekend in a house in Orlando that bring crowds," said Lynch. "People that bring potluck meals and gather in a space for wonderful music. Do we know about the Steinway Society that helps teach kids piano on a week-in, week-out basis, those sorts of things are not as obvious, not as visible, but they're touching individual lives."
But recently, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what the arts look like in Orlando has changed and there's no telling when they may return to normal.
“Very recently, some of the museums were allowed to open but from a performing arts perspective, they not only haven’t done any performances since March but they’re not seeing anything on the horizon that says they’re going to be able to in the fall, either,” said Lynch. “They’re all trying to do things to engage their donors, engage their patrons, engage the performers, engage the community with virtual arts classes and Zoom calls. One group that we fund at United Arts is FringeFest and they did a free online fringe festival a couple of weeks ago and it was just available online for people to watch and come in and watch when they wanted. The Philharmonic has done little mini-concerts, the ballet is doing smaller visual things online when they can. But those aren’t even necessarily money earners, right, they’re not bringing money into the programs. And if you miss a show, if they can’t put on one production, it’s sort of the lifeblood and it’s over, so if you miss three or a season, it’s definitely over.”
That's one reason United Arts did an even bigger fundraising push than usual to try to help the organizations out.
"United Arts does a campaign every year, it's called United Arts Collaborative Campaign," said Lynch. "It runs generally the first three months, the first four months of the year and for a few years it's been $2.1, $2.2 million campaign. We raised $3.2 million this year."
Money that not only keeps things like evening performances a possibility in the future-- but the programs you don't think about that touch people every single day.
“That can be bringing art into senior living facilities, that can be close relationships with OCPS to bring students to programs they otherwise would never see, that can be working with our governmental agencies to provide artwork for our governmental facilities,” said Lynch.
That's one of the biggest challenges the groups are facing, is how they can safely provide the experiences that make them so great.
“I think that’s the multi-million dollar question, how are things going to change?,” said Lynch. “There is no assumption that everything will just get back to normal in six months, 12 months, particularly in the performing arts space. How do choirs perform safely and appropriately? But I think what we’ve seen and what these groups are largely learning is how to connect in different ways, and how to connect virtually is a big thing. It’s a big thing across all industries and the arts is no exception to that to say, how can I connect with you over a phone call or over a video conference? If you can’t get in for a show, how do we do this a different way? Can we put on a full performance online only and charge for it? Those are questions being asked and it’s not dissimilar to how movie theaters are trying to figure out how to do it.”
But Lynch said the best part about the arts is in times like these, they can be a much-needed escape.
"The arts is keeping folks sane in a lot of ways, you know, we can talk about our little kids and singing with them in the house, or singing without our little kids in the house, or dance parties in the house, those are the moments during this pandemic with some relief, with some joy and we're trying to keep those reminders alive for all these organizations," said Lynch.
Lynch said he's honored to have been selected as one of our heroes, but said he's not the only hero working to keep the arts going, many people are keeping those efforts alive.
“I am honored to be in their presence. I am a lawyer who happens to love the arts and am fortunate enough to be able to interact with them regularly and the way they stepped up for this community to raise over $3 million to support these groups and the way they continue to keep their staff and performers in the positions they’re in is extraordinary,” said Lynch.