The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia is still closed because of COVID-19, but the doors will be reopening soon.
Things won’t get back to normal right away, according to Clay Center President and CEO Al Najjar, but they are working in that direction.
First, the Clay Center will begin hosting its annual summer camp programs starting the week of June 15. Schedules for the popular day camps were released earlier this week and are available on the Clay Center’s website.
“We’ll be doing some workshops and other programs soon,” Najjar said, referring to activities like art lessons and guided gallery tours. “We’re hoping to be able to open in three or four weeks, but we’ll be limiting numbers and trying to avoid massive crowds of people.”
The safety precautions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly hard on places like the Clay Center, with its performance halls, interactive children’s museum and theater. Right now, no musicians, dance troupes or theater companies are touring and crowds have to be kept small.
“It’s hard,” Najjar said. “Our business is interacting with the public. It’s people coming to the facilities with their families or going to concerts.”
Following the guidelines set forth in Gov. Jim Justice’s reopening plan, Najjar said the Clay Center is starting back slowly. They can offer a few things at the arts and science center now, and if things go well and guidelines are further relaxed, Najjar said, he hopes the center would be able to offer more.
“Our challenge right now is trying to figure out how to let people come and still have a meaningful experience,” he said.
Najjar said he has no idea what will happen with touring shows. Many originally scheduled for the spring or early summer have been postponed and others have been canceled.
“The entire industry is turned on its head,” he said. “The Lincoln Center is looking at opening in winter or spring, next year. Broadway is canceled until spring. So it’s not just us; it’s everybody.”
The lack of business is going to affect the bottom line, Najjar said, but the Clay Center is in a solid place financially.
“We’re taking a major hit here, but the first part of the year was very strong,” he said. “I would say that, financially, the Clay Center is very strong. We’re very conservative, fiscally, and we have very generous donors who support us.”
Najjar said the Clay Center will weather the current fiscal year, but next year could be a lot tougher.
“We’ll have to see how much things go back to normal, or if we’re going to have another outbreak,” he said.
In the meantime, Najjar said, they’re doing what they can to keep people safe. The center has introduced additional sanitary practices, including an ultraviolet-light system with the heating and air-conditioning units.
“UV kills microbes and viruses,” he said. “It’s proven to be very effective.”
Najjar said the Clay Center also is looking at ways to expand how it uses its existing facilities, like the Susan Runyan Maier Sculpture Garden.
“It’s a space that’s been part of the Clay Center since it opened,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s been no access to it.”
The addition of 10 to 15 sculptures to the green space over the next five years already was in the works. The garden also was being looked at as an outdoor performance space. When complete, the renovated space could seat about 150 people, with a standing-room only crowd of around 500 possible “under normal circumstances,” Najjar said.
He added that there is no timetable for when the sculpture garden will be ready to use.
“We’re figuring this out as we go,” he said. “We’re going to look at the guidelines and also what the doctors say.”
Najjar said that, while the Clay Center is taking small steps in its plan to reopen, the staff is excited to have people return to the building.
“We’re looking forward to opening our doors again,” he said. “We can’t wait to share it.”