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BIG ARTS new season aims to ‘Create. Inspire. Connect.’

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Dec 8, 2020

BIG ARTS Popovich Comedy Pet Theater

With the intent of promoting the continued support of the arts in spite of the pandemic, while ensuring public safety with new protocols in response to it, BIG ARTS has a full lineup planned for season.

It recently kicked off its 2020-2021 season, which is themed “Create. Inspire. Connect.”

“Obviously, we are facing challenges like all theaters and groups,” BIG ARTS Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder said. “But, at this time, we are moving ahead with our season — with precautions.”

“We wanted a positive note to the season,” she added of picking the theme for the year. “Because the arts are still alive, and we want them to stay alive. Especially in times like this, the arts can be healing.”

BIG ARTS began to implement its new safety measures early on in February or March.

BIG ARTS Ranky Tanky

“We started right away enhancing our cleaning protocols,” Harder said, adding that hand sanitizers were installed. “Over the summer and fall, we took a lot of measures to make things as safe as we can.”

It enhanced the air filtration system, which was already new and state-of-the art.

“We are practicing social distancing. We have put up sneeze guards,” Harder said. “We are limiting capacity at all of our events. For some programs we can remove rows of seats, like for lectures.”

In addition, virtual tickets are being offered for some programming.

“Most important is masks are required to be worn in the building at all times,” she said.

BIG ARTS The Music of Sam Cooke, The King of Soul

As for what is in store during the “Create. Inspire. Connect.” season, the public will find exciting and varied performances, lecture series, workshops and classes, a film series, and fine arts exhibitions.

For its Performing Arts program, BIG ARTS has 15 acts scheduled for its 414-seat theater, the Christensen Performance Hall. For events, occupancy will be limited to about 200 tickets.

“With our 50 percent capacity seating, some of them (the performances) are already full,” Harder said. “But, we are offering second performances to give everyone who wants to come an opportunity.”

As of Dec. 4, tickets were still available for: Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, Gryphon Trio with James Campbell, Mike Super, Timothy Chooi with Richard Fu, Ranky Tanky, Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Hot Club of Cowtown, Jupiter and Jasper String Quartets, Heart By Heart, The Music of Sam Cooke: The King of Soul, ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Late Nite Catechism 3, Piaf: No Regrets — Christine Andreas, and Veronica Swift. Some performances only had a limited number of them.

“We still have our full classical season,” she said, pointing to the Jupiter and Jasper String Quartets as one of the season’s highlights. “As for the rest of the program, we have some great stuff coming.”

BIG ARTS Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper

There is family theater with the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater — all rescue animals. South Carolina’s Ranky Tanky introduces Gullah music and its rich history. Late Nite Catechism bubbles with comedy and Veronica Swift hits the jazz note, while The Music of Sam Cooke highlights the singer-songwriter.

“This show not only includes his wonderful music, but a lot of stories about Sam,” Harder said.

“So we have some great great music coming,” she added. “It’ll be a lot of fun.”

For its Education Program, BIG ARTS offers two lecture series: Talking Points and The Forum.

“Talking Points is our afternoon lecture series,” Harder said, adding that it takes place on Thursdays at 4 p.m. and covers subjects from the environment to technology. “They do a wide range of topics.”

BIG ARTS BIG ARTS has a full lineup planned for its 2020-2021 “Create. Inspire. Connect.” season.

This season’s speakers and subjects include: Fred Guttenberg on “From Grieving Father To Gun Safety Advocate,” Lyn Millner on “Fake News: How To Tell Fact From Fiction,” Ian Sherr on “Is Internet Privacy Even Possible?,” Kinfay Moroti on “Race Relations In Southwest Florida: A Photographic Study” and Katharine Hayhoe on “Reduce Your Carbon Footprint,” plus a sixth surprise pop-up lecture.

“It is a broad offering,” she said. “We have some great speakers this year.”

Harder pointed to Moroti as one example.

“In addition to that, he just installed an exhibit in our West Entrance gallery,” she said. “It’s extremely moving on beautiful struggles. He concentrates on the lives of people living in Southwest Florida.”

As for The Forum series, the lectures are more geopolitical in their content.

They include: Jeffrey J. Selingo on “What’s the Future of Higher Education and How Will We Get There?,” Michael Hershman on “What Does Corruption in America Really Look Like,” Dr. Arin Reeves on “Challenges to Women Leading in America,” Ret. Adm. Michael S. Rogers on “Understanding the Threat of Cyber Warfare to American Government, Business, and its Citizens,” Professor Bridgette Carr on “Immigration and Women As Trafficking Victims,” Kevin Sites on “Getting the Story from the Hot Zone,” Dr. Fiona Hill on “Russia’s Relations with the U.S. and Europe” and Ambassador Peter Galbraith on “Syria, the Kurds and Iran.”

“Future of higher education, challenges for women leading in America — women in leadership roles — immigration and women in trafficking,” Harder said. “Some very interesting topics and very timely.”

BIG ARTS is offering in-person and virtual tickets for both series.

“The Forum in-house seats are sold out currently, but there are unlimited amounts of virtual tickets available,” she said on Dec. 4, adding that there are both in-person tickets — for the complete series or individual lectures — and virtual live-streaming tickets available for the Talking Points program.

Also under its Education Program, BIG ARTS hosts workshops and classes, which include its Winter Academy, painting, drawing, fine crafts, photography, discussion, language and writing, and music.

“Most of them will be here in-house,” Harder said.

There also are a handful of virtual offerings available via Zoom this year.

At the end of October, BIG ARTS kicked off its Monday Night Film series in the Christensen Performance Hall. Again, tickets are sold at half-capacity; no food nor drinks are for sale.

“It’s a comfortable experience for them as they can spread out very nicely,” she said.

“Everyone is wearing a mask, and they’re enjoying the movie,” Harder added.

The remaining films are “The Whistlers,” “Emma” and “Honeyland.”

For its Fine Arts program, BIG ARTS scheduled six exhibits for the season in the Dunham Family Gallery. It also created a virtual gallery, with tours and artist interviews, in light of COVID-19.

“We’ve had so many people respond to it,” she said of adding a virtual option.

The exhibitions include: “Creative Threads,” with Sally Dutko, Bonnie Langenfeld and Angela Scozzari; “Exploration,” Sanibel-Captiva Art League’s 45th Annual Juried Art Council of Southwest Florida Exhibit; “In Praise of Shadows,” The Sculpture of Ran Adler; “Urban Layers,” Aida Tejada; “Art by the disABLEd”; and Florida SouthWestern State College Students Fine Arts Exhibition.

Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

While the BIG ARTS Band and BIG ARTS Chorus would typically have performances planned for the season, during the holidays in particular, officials have deemed those activities as too risky to put on.

“Instead of having a concert this year, we actually did a short film,” she said, encouraging the public to stay tuned as an announcement on its release is coming soon. “It’s a holiday gift to the community.”

The public is invited to check out the programming lined up and take part.

“The arts are still alive and they’re still nurturing. I think it’s important that people stay in touch with the arts,” Harder said, adding that they can participate in-person if they are comfortable doing so or join virtually if they do not. “It’s still a wonderful way to stay in touch with BIG ARTS and other people.”

She also thanked the BIG ARTS volunteers, as well as the community for its support.

“We’re here for the community, and we always will be,” Harder said.

Tickets can only be purchased by stopping by the box office or calling 239-395-0900.

For more information about this year’s programming, visit https://bigarts.org.

BIG ARTS is at 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.