Ridgway residents might recognize ‘Chautauqua’ — if they know it at all — as the society synonymous with the historic Sherbino Theater.
But the word stands for something bigger: Chautauqua was a movement of the early 20th century that delivered quality entertainers and lecturers to small towns across America. Chautaqua events were wholesome affairs, designed to appeal to the whole family, and often took place in tents.
For the next couple weeks, at the height of the summer season, Ridgway’s Chautaqua Society will be folding its metaphorical tent: Events at the Sherbino at the 610 Courtyard, the new outdoor space that has hosted numerous musical acts, guest lecturers and evening movies since its inception just a couple of months ago, will be “taking a pause,” in the words of programming coordinator Trisha Oakland.
On Monday, Ouray County Public Health Agency Director Tanner Kingery had announced a new outbreak of COVID-19 in Ouray County: five confirmed cases, “two new probable cases, and one suspected new case.”
“We are pretty concerned” about the recent outbreak, Oakland said. “This year especially, we’ve marketed our events to locals. We’re looking at the numbers. Tanner’s been saying 200 people will have to be contacted. It’s a safer option for us to say, ‘We’re taking a pause. We’re trying to protect the community; we’re trying to give the county time to contact-trace.”
That said, “We’re going to offer some limited daylight hours” for artist Lisa Ellison’s art exhibit at Gallery 610 to conclude. But musical events, such as Jazz with Yaz — saxophone soloist Yasuo Ishikawa’s concerts on Wednesday evenings — are being postponed for the next two weeks.
“We’re still sorting through the details,” Oakland said.
Cie Hoover, who has a solo art exhibit scheduled, as well as an album-release concert with his wife, Karisa Hoover (together, they’re the folk/indie-rock group You Knew Me When), has been affected by the temporary closure: Although Hoover’s exhibit will open Sept. 5, his meet-and-greet has been pushed back until Sept. 9.
“Contact tracers are working on tracing whatever the community gathering was,” Oakland said. “No one’s contacted us about it, which tells me the transmissions didn’t take place here, so that’s a good thing. We’ll have to step back and sift through our model and make sure the pause button is good.”
Already, the Courtyard at 610 had been following local health protocols; parties were required to book widely spaced tables; beverages were offered in cans to minimize contact between servers and imbibers. “I really hope Ouray County can come up with a plan to reel this in and contain it,” Oakland said. “I’ve been hearing that community members affected have been contacting each other and letting others know that they tested positive. The one really good side of this is that people seem to be working together, spreading the word.”
You Knew Me When managed a musical tour this summer. “It was supposed to be from two to five months,” Cie Hoover said. “It ended up being 2-5 weeks. It was a lot of driving for six or seven shows in North Carolina, Nashville, with a stop through Karisa’s hometown in Iowa (among other places) before returning home to Ouray. “There was a lot of hand-sanitizer and mask-wearing,” Hoover said. “It’s one of those interesting things: you want people to come to your show, but you don’t want that many people. This is absolutely one of these things that everyone in the entertainment industry is dealing with right now. We’ll take what we can get.”
Oakland is optimistic about cultural programming returning soon (after all, this pause is voluntary). “A few days’ breather isn’t the worst,” she said. “We’ll take September as it comes, weather-wise and health-wise.”
Jazz with Yaz “will return through the end of the month and possibly into October, weather permitting,” Oakland added. A classical guitar performance on Sept. 4 “will be the first event when we open the Courtyard again, assuming all is well. ArtBar is still scheduled in the Sherbino Theater, with a virtual option.
We do have a lot planned,” she went on. “I’m really proud of how we’ve found a way to continue offering events in a safe manner. If we’ve gained nothing else from this experience, I think it’s caused people to really appreciate the arts in their community. I hope that continues once we get past this.”