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April 25, 2024

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Nashville Arts 2020 Check-In

Three Questions with CEOs from Nashville Arts Institutions

Paul Vasterling, Artistic Director of Nashville Ballet

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

There's always a lot going on at Nashville Ballet, so it's no surprise that things were quite busy before the pandemic hit. We opted to close our building and halt rehearsals in mid-March; at that time, we were preparing for our annual Modern Masters production. Having to cancel that production in particular was a huge disappointment for our artists. It's a series that I programmed specifically to challenge the dancers by presenting what you might consider some of ballet's greatest hits; we bring in some of the world's most impressive choreographers and repetiteurs and it often gives our dancers the opportunity to perform dream roles. Modern Masters was also supposed to be the last time Kayla Rowser, Jon Upleger, Gerald Watson, and Benjamin Wetzel would perform at TPAC before retiring and having that final bow ripped away must've been devastating. Our School students and faculty were also preparing to present Coppelia — it was a major milestone marking the growth and strength of training within our Academy that made kids more excited than ever to come to class. Essentially, everyone was working their hardest and really at their best point in the season right before things came to a halt. 

For me personally, it was like having my voice taken away. I was reworking a new, updated version of Seasons, which was supposed to premiere during Modern Masters. As an artist, working with the Company to create something new, is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job; the capacity to create is integral to my being — it's how I communicate and express myself — so to be forced out of the studio so abruptly was jarring.

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

It's been amazing and inspiring to see the ways in which everyone within our organization has adapted so quickly. Covid-19 has brought so many challenges to the performing arts industry, but the strength, flexibility, and resiliency with which all of Nashville Ballet's board members, staff, faculty, dancers, and students have responded is truly inspiring. We moved all of our classes online, and eventually even transitioned to a virtual summer intensive, which was a tremendous undertaking for our school staff and faculty. Not to mention, moving everything to be done virtually made teaching even more physically demanding, but our faculty never once complained — their dedication to passing down our art form and lifting up our students is unparalleled, it kept them going no matter what! 

We also launched a free digital performance series in the spring to make up for the cancellation of the spring portion of our 2019–2020 season. That was such a surprisingly fulfilling project in so many ways! Each Saturday for about three months we were able to reach our audiences via email and shared either a past performance or new work that was created entirely via Zoom. Revisiting previous productions was a much needed escape that allowed me to relive some of the best moments of my time as artistic director, while creating and sharing new work really gave me back that outlet and that voice that I felt like was taken away when we were forced to leave the studio. It presented new challenges, but it was rejuvenating to be working again and to be able to explore what I, and what all of Nashville, was going through in the way that I best express myself. 

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

At a time like this, that's almost funny to think about — what can students and patrons expect, what does the future hold — because if I've learned anything from the pandemic and this tumultuous time, it's that we really can't know what to expect and we have to be okay with that.

In a lot of ways, ballet is all about control, planning, order — when we perform, we know the next step, we've designed it and rehearsed it countless times, we know what's coming — but at its core, dancing is something we can look to as a reminder of how we have to approach life moving forward, as we continue to exist within a global pandemic. Movement is fluid, always changing and in motion, as is life, and our response to the ever-evolving world around us must be equally adaptable and malleable. Our work as dancers requires strength, resiliency, endurance, and a great deal of mental and emotional fortitude — a series of traits and characteristics that I know have driven not only me, but everyone at Nashville Ballet, over the past several months and will continue to keep us working and determined to share the power and beauty of dance with everyone in our community. 

Right now, our performances are set to start again in November with limited seating and strict protocols for safely distancing and sanitizing. Our School plans to offer in-person and virtual class options during the fall semester beginning in September, and we hope to continue reaching others across Middle Tennessee with digital performances and other community engagement offerings. We've worked really hard on figuring out the best ways to keep our work going and stay connected with everyone in our extended family while prioritizing safety; I hope that case numbers go down and that everyone is taking as many safety precautions as possible to stop the spread of this virus so we can carry out everything as planned. No matter what happens though, we really are prepared for every possible scenario — our list of contingency plans seems endless and I hope that all of our patrons and school families feel encouraged, heard, and cared for by us during this time.  



Dr. Susan Edwards, Executive Director and CEO of Frist Art Museum

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

Three days before we closed to the public on March 16, we had just opened the exhibitions Mel Ziegler: Flag Exchange and Jitish Kallat: Return to Sender. Both shows are remarkably powerful and timely and have turned out to also be very prescient in the context of the momentous events we’ve all experienced since March. Fortunately, we have been able to extend the presentation of all current exhibitions so visitors will have more time to see the works. 

At that moment in March, we were also busy planning for our 2021 exhibition and program schedule. Those efforts have only increased while our staff has worked remotely to pivot and reschedule as necessary.  

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

Like many organizations, we had to quickly adapt to a new remote working environment and simultaneously amplify our online resources. While we were physically disconnected, there has been outstanding collaborative effort among our departments to support our mission and represent the Frist on the global stage in this virtual environment. The overall goal in our efforts is to continue engaging our audiences and provide meaningful educational and exhibition-related content. 

With the stay-at-home orders, we saw a dramatic increase in traffic to our website and social media channels, including a 980% increase in visitation to (comparing the three weeks before the museum closed to the three weeks after we closed). I highly recommend exploring our “Art is All Around You” video series and related artmaking activities that were created in partnership with NPT!

We worked to move as many programs and resources as possible online through Zoom and produced video tours and interviews. For example, preserving the heart of our Family Mondays, we now offer a trilingual Storytime with the Frist reading and activity, which can be found on our site and YouTube page. On the second Monday of each month, selected stories that are tied to current exhibitions are shared in English, Spanish, and interpreted in ASL. We also shifted an entire exhibition of local artists, We Count: First-Time Voters, to become our very first digital exhibition. With video interviews and a number of other resources, it’s a wonderfully informative and engaging online experience by inspired by the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Being online, we are very happy to be able to reach new expanded audiences. After we reopened, we were able to install the works in our Conte Community Arts Gallery as we had originally planned, allowing in person viewing.  

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

We have been delighted to see many families visiting us in our first weeks of reopening. We have taken a very cautious and conservative approach to our operations, vastly reducing the building’s capacity. I encourage anyone planning to visit to first read about our new protocols on 

Unfortunately, our beloved Martin ArtQuest Gallery is still closed at this time, but we look forward to its reopening when we can do so safely. We want our community to know that their health and safety is always our top priority and that we are dedicated to operating in the safest manner possible. We greatly appreciate how our guests in these first weeks have adapted to our new procedures, and we are proud to offer a safe, smooth, and enjoyable visitor experience. We look forward to introducing our next round of exhibitions and making some very exciting announcements about our plans for 2021, our twentieth anniversary year! 



Jennifer Turner, President & CEO of Tennessee Performing Arts Center

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

Already, we were responding to the tornadoes that had just come through Nashville when we had to shut down because of the pandemic. At the time, we’d presented a hugely successful three-week debut of Hamilton in January. Plus, we had announced our 20-21 Broadway season and were receiving an incredible initial response from our Season Ticket Holders. We had new programming on our minds as well with plans to offer a family series of public shows from our annual Season for Young People this fall.

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

I am incredibly proud of how our team responded creatively and adapted our programs for the virtual space. Our Education and Community Engagement team immediately shifted to video content for at-home learning with the help of our incredible teaching artists. We have been able to move arts activities, engaging lessons for young people, even teacher trainings to online. With a little help from Broadway’s Will Blum (Beetlejuice, School of Rock), we produced a virtual awards ceremony for our Nashville High School Musical Theater Awards program. Also, we were able to recognize the 39 schools participating in our Disney Musicals in Schools program through videos showcasing the hard work they put into their productions. Embracing an opportunity to engage patrons beyond our walls, we launched the TPAC Salon Series to provide fun, informative, and interactive virtual activities. They included a virtual wine tasting with City Winery, a cooking class with Amerigo, a conversation with singer-songwriter and Broadway star Diana DeGarmo, and a discussion with Dr. Ricki Gibbs, principal at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School. We are looking at hosting more events like these in the future. 

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

We are focused on creating a safe and healthy environment at TPAC so we can reconnect through the arts and the magic of live performances as soon as possible. We are looking forward to our Broadway series “roaring back” in February with a multi-week run of The Lion King. With our Broadway series, we had to move some shows from this Fall to our 21-22 Season. Although our schedule is shifting, we are still working on presenting a family series that features public performances from our Season for Young People line-up. We’re looking at multiple ways to deliver our education programs based on virtual or hybrid in-school scenarios so that we can continue to bring the arts to students based on school and teacher needs.  



Ernie Nolan, Executive Artistic Director of Nashville Children’s Theatre

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

A lot was going on in the building at the beginning of March and then things got really rough! We had to cancel performances of the world premiere of Hans Christian Anderson for students. Due to school closings for Covid, we had to end the run early. The Teddy Bear's Picnic in The Snuggery was just two weeks into its run and had to stop as well. Pete The Cat had just loaded in the set too. We also had to cancel Spring Break Camp in the building. At first, we thought we were looking at a three week delay, but then  quickly realized that this was going to be much longer. We were all really excited about Pete The Cat. Over 21,000 students were scheduled to see it this spring and public sales were on trend to make it the most attended show in our history. We had also just announced our 90th Birthday season. There was an amazing energy in the building. Then one day, we all had to leave. As we slowly returned, it was as if the building was a time capsule. It was heartbreaking to see that all of the excitement of early March was frozen in time.

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

While production started to make multiple plans and calendars, the Drama instantly pivoted an created entirely original virtual classes. They made entirely new curriculum that was specifically online friendly. It was amazing! Since The Drama School went online, we’ve served over 600 students in 14 states and Puerto Rico as well as Spain and Canada.

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

90 years ago when NCT was founded we didn't have a permanent home. For years, we existed in multiple locations outside our building. As we start our 90th year, you can expect that NCT will be outside our building once again! Our plan is to be sure that the magic and artistry that is NCT reaches folks far and wide, beyond the walls of our theatre. We’re planning on online theatrical experiences that both entertain and educate young people whether they are staying at home or also back at school. We what the community to know that we are sincerely dedicated to continue creating projects that reflect our community, instill profound empathy, and foster personal discovery no matter where we are!


Leadership & Staff — Nashville Opera

John Hoomes, CEO & Artistic Director of Nashville Opera 

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

When everything shut down I personally was in Pensacola, FL in the midst of rehearsals for Verdi’s IL Trovatore. We were shut down on an Thursday afternoon, I drove back to Nashville, and then a day or so later we closed our offices here and our staff have been working remotely ever since. Here at the Nashville Opera, we were most looking forward to beginning rehearsals on our new “film noir” production of Verdi’s Rigoletto which was originally scheduled for April 2020.  But it was not to be. Fortunately we were able to postpone and reschedule that production for spring 2021.

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

One of our first priorities in adapting to this new normal was transitioning to an online platform with both our programming and our work in education.  We chose our mainstage production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance for our first online offering. This show felt like the right choice as this comic operetta was perfect for all audiences, and we wanted to offer something that the entire family could enjoy together while sheltering in place.  In conjunction with this mainstage offering, we also streamed recordings of three of our Education Tour shows (Little Red’s Most Unusual Day, The Enchanted Forest and Bear Hug/Abrazo De Oso). All three of these education productions are free to the public and still streaming on our website at We have had great success with all of our streaming offerings. We were very excited to hear that we were connecting with children as far away as Central and South America who were experiencing opera for the first time through our Bilingual opera Bear Hug.

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

I’m happy to say we are keeping busy, and moving forward with some exciting programming by exploring new and innovative ways to bring opera to our community.  In September, we’ll be presenting the world premiere of a brand new opera called One Vote Won by Nashville composer Dave Ragland.  This new opera celebrates the hard won battle to make sure every citizen is able to exercise their right to vote. One Vote Won will also serve as outreach to high schools and colleges. This will be our first digital opera and will be released to streaming platforms in mid-September. We are also creating a new virtual education tour to the schools which will have the capability to reach even more children than ever before.  An important part of our education will be a new initiative called Opera On WheelsOpera On Wheels will take the singers of our education tour all over Nashville and Middle Tennessee as they perform live (and socially distanced) in a variety of different and unusual venues around our city.


Jane MacLeod - Cheekwood Estate & Gardens | Nashville, Tennessee

Jane MacLeod, President & CEO of Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

2020 marks Cheekwood’s 60th year as a public institution and we had a full slate of celebratory garden openings scheduled, in addition to the return of Chihuly at Cheekwood  for a 10th anniversary show … and then the pandemic hit.  With cases of Covid on the rise, Cheekwood closed first the Historic Mansion and Museum on March 13th and then the full garden on March 17th in the midst of our annual Cheekwood in Bloom festival, with its signature display of 100,000 tulips, on the very cusp of blooming. While we shared the stunning display in a virtual campaign, it was truly sad that our gates were closed to visitors during what many consider the most beautiful time of year at Cheekwood.  Further distressing, was the closure also required the postponement and rescheduling of the Chihuly at Cheekwood exhibition, set for April 25th, to coincide with the re-opening of the Ann & Monroe Carell Jr. Family Sculpture Trail on International Sculpture Day, all of which had been literally years in the planning. The reopening of the newly restored Blevins Japanese Garden, scheduled for late March, was also postponed due to the closure, and while we had been able to open the new two-acre Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden on March 7th, just 10 days later it would be closed as well.

Q. How have you been adapting to the pandemic? 

Cheekwood first adapted by sharing our stunning gardens in a virtual campaign that centered around the words of Lady Bird Johnson, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Despite the public only being able to see the awe-inspiring beauty of Cheekwood virtually, we heard many positive comments as people shared the comfort our images of the gardens brought to them while under quarantine. With the virtual campaign in full swing, behind the scenes Cheekwood was working in earnest with Chihuly Studios to reschedule the show and determine how its six-month run could work as part of our annual Holiday LIGHTS festival as any rescheduling would carry the show through December and into January. We also immediately began the process of planning a “Welcome Back to Cheekwood” campaign when we could reopen, which we did (gardens only) on May 22, marking the same day Cheekwood first opened to the public in 1960. When we were able to bring the larger horticulture team back on property, work commenced in reactivating efforts to complete renovations of the Blevins Japanese Garden and Ann & Monroe Carell Jr Family Sculpture Trail, which had both been halted in March with Cheekwood’s closure. The amazing team at Cheekwood, working under new conditions and safety protocols, stepped up to the task of re-organizing for the Chihuly exhibition, four years in the planning; implementing extensive new safety protocols and procedures; and accelerating garden projects to ensure when we re-opened on May 22nd, all of Cheekwood’s 55-acres would be open and available to visitors as a place in which to renew their mind, body and spirit.

Q. What can families expect moving forward?

Moving forward, families can expect to experience Cheekwood at its finest. Following extensive renovations as well as new construction made possible by The Cheekwood Campaign, the Cheekwood estate has never looked more magnificent, especially with the spectacular works of Dale Chihuly gracing our gardens as well as our Museum galleries. The future is, of course, uncertain, but what is certain is Cheekwood’s resolve and resilience that has allowed it to serve the community for 60 years and will for another 60 years and beyond. I want the community to know that a visit to Cheekwood promises to bring solace and joy and peace and that we look forward to serving them in offering our full 55-acres of open space in which to partake of the incomparable beauty of Cheekwood, bedecked with the stunning works of Dale Chihuly. Cheekwood’s gates are open and our staff is standing ready to welcome you to the wonder of this incredible estate – as Lady Bird Johnson said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”



Lisa Purcell, Senior Vice President of Development, Education and Community Engagement at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Q. What were you in the middle of when everything shut down? 

In February, an extremely successful All for the Hall benefit concert with Keith Urban and friends at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville generated greater awareness, locally and nationally, for the museum, its non-profit mission and its educational programs. Heading into March, all signs pointed to another record-breaking year as we prepared to open our first exhibit of 2020, American Currents: State of the Music, and anticipated the arrival of local students and families for our spring break programming.

Q. How have you been adapting in the pandemic? 

Music has great power to unify, embolden and provide solace in times of crisis. We recognize that people need inspiration and togetherness. When we closed the museum temporarily in March, we also had to cancel in-person educational programs for youth and adults that would have drawn crowds to the museum—we used this as an opportunity to enhance our existing online programming, enabling us to better serve audiences of all ages, at no cost, in any location. We have been purposeful to create digital content and resources for fans, family audiences, teachers, students and along the way, we’ve been developing new audiences for the museum, too. 

For youth and families specifically, we currently have three primary resources: live, interactive programs for children guided by museum educators that explore the museum’s exhibits and collection through art projects, songwriting instruction and instrument workshops; Words & Music at Home, which provides a step-by-step guide to writing original song lyrics and offers tips for putting those ideas to music; and downloadable coloring sheets and activities that share information about instruments, exhibits and more. All of these resources can be found on the “Fun at Home” page of our website, by visiting and entering “Fun at Home” into the search. 

Additionally, the museum hosts Songwriter Sessions every Tuesday at 8 p.m. Central. We invite you to hear the stories behind the songs and get advice from master songwriters. Brandi Clark, Dierks Bentley and Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Schlitz are a few of the songwriters who have joined us for this program. Those interested in country music history can also explore museum past programs on our website, where they can hear interviews, great music and insightful commentary.

Q. What can families expect moving forward?  

Our first priority at the museum is the health and safety of our guests and our staff. That priority guides all of our decisions. We now are giving careful consideration to many factors as we work toward reopening. Just as the society at-large has been forever altered by the virus, museums are changed for the foreseeable future. When we reopen we will have policies in place to help ensure a safe environment. The guest experience will be different. In-person programming, including live music in our theaters and instructional classes in the Taylor Swift Education Center will be paused. No matter the changes, our commitment to sharing and illuminating the country music story will not waiver, and we will continue to meet those whom we cannot serve in our building as we continue to grow our virtual programs, bring exhibitions online and expand our cultural footprint.

Additionally, we currently have a special membership offer exclusive to Tennessee residents. If you purchase either an individual or family membership now, it will not expire until Dec. 31, 2021. By purchasing a membership, you are supporting the non-profit museum in this time of critical need.

About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.