Three days after the governor banned large public gatherings across Oregon, esteemed Portland chamber choir Cappella Romana sang Tchaikovsky's sublime Divine Liturgy in an empty Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. But it was far from a lonely night.
Another local arts organization, Portland Baroque Orchestra, produced a livestream of the crowdless concert. Hosted on Facebook, it was free for anyone to tune in. An estimated 80,000 viewers watched from around the world.
"It was an absolute blast," says Abigail McKee, PBO's executive director. "Nobody quite knew what to expect. I give the musicians an immense amount of credit for jumping on this and saying, 'Yes, let's do this adventurous, kind of scary thing.'"
She hopes to do more of it. In response to the crushing impact the coronavirus has had on Portland's performing arts groups, McKee made it the orchestra's mission to help other organizations go digital.
"We went, in one week, from being arts administrators who are responsible for selling tickets and handling patrons in person to a crackerjack video team," says McKee.
So far, PBO has livestreamed three performances—Divine Liturgy, Big Mouth Society's The American Promise and the orchestra's own Theatrical Concerti—and drawn a combined viewership of around 100,000 people. It has also brought in thousands of dollars in donations for the groups.
McKee has been in contact with the Portland Arts Commission and the Miller Foundation, among others, about producing streams. She plans to offer PBO's services until patrons can safely enter the halls once again.
"The arts, to me, allow us to step outside of the experience we are having in our world at that moment," McKee says. "In doing that, it connects us with each other and something bigger than ourselves. In a moment like this, that is more imperative than ever."
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