Terence Blanchard onstage on Jan. 18, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Jackie Espitia

Similar to many people and fields, COVID-19 has impacted individuals in a variety of ways. Nearly two years after not hosting events and in its second season back, Cal Poly Arts is adjusting to the changes. 

There are about 25 to 40 performances within a season ranging from singers, musicians, dancers and more. Past performances this season include Aida Cuevas, Malpaso Dance Company and Terence Blanchard. 

Though as a result of COVID-19, Director of Cal Poly Arts Molly Clark said the attendance rate has generally decreased by about 30% to 50%. 

The performing arts overall have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and while shows are back on, the attendance rate has not reached pre-pandemic levels. 

The decline falls in line with a national trend Clark has noticed among university-performing art presenters and nonprofit organizations. With entertainment available on streaming services and the performing arts serving as a center for large group gatherings, the pandemic altered behavior regarding attendance in the performing arts. 

The noticeability of this decreased attendance rate is unique to San Luis Obispo. In comparison to larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or San Diego, San Luis Obispo has a smaller population making the decreased attendance rate more apparent. 

The pandemic has shaped the approach to booking events, specifically emphasizing the ongoing goal of diversity. 

“That diversity of artists that you present on stage can have a real impact from many different levels,” Clark said. “For students of color, it’s hard to find representation and I think the performing arts provide a platform for that to see … The arts are a powerful vehicle for fostering understanding and empathy.”

One well-attended event was Carla Morrison, a multiple Grammy-nominated and Latin Grammy Mexican indie-pop artist, and her Oct. 2022 performance sold out. 

The profound effect of the performing arts on audience members is something theater arts junior and Cal Poly Arts student assistant Rachel Kupfer-Weinsteint notices. 

“It’s really fun to see during intermission … and after the show the joy on people’s faces and how grateful they are that they get to see this and the way it made them feel,” Kupfer-Weinstein said “I like to see the way theater impacts people.”

While the pandemic has affected the overall attendance rate to events, Cal Poly Arts staff encourage individuals, especially Cal Poly students to attend. 

“Just students knowing about who we are, what we do, what’s available to them and hoping that we can make Cal Poly Arts a part of their campus experience,” Cal Poly Arts Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator Rob Laacke said.

Cal Poly Arts are not limited to organizing and bringing performers to campus, but also reaching the community. Cal Poly Arts are adapting to COVID-19 by planning a range of events for the season and working to connect artists and students through their outreach programs. 

Alicia Olatuja working with Cal Poly Students. Credit: Courtesy of Jackie Espitia

The program has two primary outreach programs: Passport for the Arts and Poly Arts for Youth. 

Passport for the Arts provides free or subsidized access to events and workshops to low-income and marginalized communities to give them an opportunity to attend performing art events. This program also includes subsidized tickets for students, Cal Poly students can get tickets for about $15 to most Cal Poly Arts events. Cal Poly faculty and staff can also get discounted tickets for about 20% off most events. 

Poly Arts for the Youth (PAFY) is a program connecting K-12 students to artists in the classroom. Through workshops, artists teach students about their specializations and put on performances for them. With zero cost to students or schools, Cal Poly Arts puts together opportunities for connection and artistic learning for students. The scheduled workshops for the 2022-2023 year are posted on the Cal Poly Arts website

Specific to Cal Poly students, Cal Poly Arts has Artist Residencies which is putting together opportunities for students to interact and learn from artists performing on campus. Either through workshops, lectures, Q&As and more, students can learn about the arts and the artists behind them. These chances of learning are typically within a specific class and time, though it is most often open to the community as well. 

Cal Poly Arts events for the 2022-2023 season are listed on their website, and Laacke encourages the community to attend and engage with the Cal Poly Arts experience. 

“I see every seat in the theater during a show, it’s like an opportunity for someone to change their lives right? Because that’s kind of what the arts do,” Laacke said. “There are so many things in this world that you haven’t ever been experienced or exposed to and it’s just in the [Performing Arts Center].”