The leaders of three Chippewa Valley arts centers say plans on when the facilities would reopen to the public were not affected by the state Supreme Court’s decision to toss Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home extension.
The court’s 4-3 ruling essentially reopens the state, lifting caps on the size of gatherings, allowing people to travel as they please and allowing shuttered businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants. The decision did let stand language that had closed schools, and local governments can still impose their own health restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jason Jon Anderson, executive director of Pablo Center for the Arts in Eau Claire, said the building remains closed to the general public, and facility officials are awaiting from health officials specific guidelines and standards for when it will be safe to do so. As a facility for large gatherings, Anderson said, Pablo Center is in the category of places that will be the last to reopen.
“We’re excited to open, we’re excited to have people back, but we continue to promise everyone we’ll do so when it’s safe, and we’re doing so in a very nonpartisan way,” Anderson said. “We’re not playing politics. ... I want to know the data and I want to provide a safe space for audience members. And once we can ensure that, we will open under the guidance that the county Health Department provides us.”
There’s a reason why major venues such as Pablo Center are the last to open, Anderson said, “because it’s the quickest way to really pull the rip cord on pulling us back down or moving us in a negative direction.”
He added: “As a destination venue that draws from multiple cities and across state lines, I take that as a tremendous responsibility to when we decide to open the building.”
The Eau Claire City-County Health Department on Thursday issued a coronavirus “prevention and control” order that immediately lets all businesses, facilities, playgrounds, campgrounds and churches open, but they’ll need to follow rules for social distancing, screening of guests and limits on occupancy.
The Chippewa County and Dunn County public health directors have asked that community members voluntarily follow safe social distancing practices.
Deb Johnson, executive director of Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls, said the court ruling had no immediate effect on reopening the facility because everything planned until about mid-June has been canceled or postponed. The ruling does provide a glimmer of good news for the future, though.
“It did give us some good hope for being able to do some of the stuff mid-June that we were kind of holding on to,” she said. “We’ve been planning and planning and thinking and organizing for any kind of scenario to come up.”
Johnson acknowledges that a slow reopening will be the best way to again offer their art workshops, performances, bus tours, weddings and other events.
“We know we’re going to have to open in a whole new way, a very conscious and a very safe way,” she said. “But we’re ready for that, and we’re looking forward to that.”
Jeff McSweeney, executive director of Menomonie’s Mabel Tainter, said that they await word on when the time will be right again hold larger performances. The Mabel will, however, reopen tours of the historic building starting Friday, May 23. That decision, McSweeney said, was in response to Evers’ announcement Monday that some nonessential locations could reopen if they followed social distancing guidelines and allowed no more than five people at a time.
Working with a board of directors and the general community, McSweeney said, they are gauging when will be the right time for when the public is ready to see the facility reopen – not too far ahead of that consensus but not too far behind either. To help determine that, McSweeney is working with a number of venues from across Wisconsin and the country to develop a strategy.
“It’s fluid from week to week,” he said. “Whoever thought there would be a restaurant today full of people? And some restaurants have declined to do that, and I respect both sides.”
In addition to the tours, The Tainter will host a blood drive Friday, June 5.