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‘The arts will always be open’: Bardo Arts Center adapts to remote audience

‘The arts will always be open’: Bardo Arts Center adapts to remote audience

By Andrew Dundas • Contributing writer | This fall, Western Carolina University’s John W. Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center celebrates 15 years of visual and performing arts programming for students and audiences in surrounding counties. The anniversary, however, comes in the midst of COVID-19-related closures and cancellations affecting events and spaces. 

The Bardo Arts Center contains and manages the WCU Fine Art Museum, BAC Performance Hall, and Niggli Studio Theatre. These venues host a range of activities, including art exhibitions, live music and dance, workshops, acting and literary presentations. The Bardo Arts Center also houses many of the classrooms and studio spaces for the WCU School of Art and Design.

“Although our season is definitely different than we would have hoped for an anniversary season,” Marketing Director Jill Jacobs said, “we will be celebrating in the fall with our series of online programs including our main museum exhibition, Cultivating Collections, which features work from the WCU Fine Art Museum’s permanent collection.”

The Bardo Arts Center closed its doors on March 17 and canceled all events being held after March 5. Since then, they have created virtual experiences to replace in-person ones. Throughout April and May, Jacobs said, they livestreamed artist’s talks and theatrical programs, reaching the same or greater numbers of viewer than on-site showings.

Continuing into the year with these digital opportunities, Jacobs said, “Bardo Arts Center is excited to be a part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers for the 2020-2021 season and will present six independent documentaries in a virtual format with opportunities for the public to interact virtually with the filmmakers.”

Some events could not be held online, however, and the Bardo Arts Center offered three options for patrons who had already bought tickets. Ticket-holders could choose either a full refund, a voucher for a future performance or leave their purchase as a contribution to the Bardo Arts Center. Jacobs said, “Well over 50 percent of the patrons chose the contribution option which did help off-set some of the missing revenue.” Regardless, she said, the Bardo Arts Center will lose tens of thousands of dollars from from ticket sales, venue rental fees, and admission donations at the WCU Fine Art Museum due to COVID-19 will cost Bardo Arts Center tens of thousands of dollars."

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Despite these losses, the Bardo Art Center has not had to lay off any staff, Jacobs said. Employees who could work remotely began to do so on March 17, those who could not were given special paid leave through the UNC System.

“Reopening Bardo Arts Center to the public is still a fluid situation and each arts discipline has its own unique requirements to protect artists and audiences,” she said. 

Consulting with arts organizations, the CDC and WCU, Bardo Arts Center is developing a reopening plan that considers everyone’s safety.

 “Bardo Arts Center would love readers to know that although our doors might be closed, the arts will always be open. We will continue providing as many digital arts experiences as we can and will be in touch with the public as soon as we are able to welcome our community back into our building,” Jacobs said. 


Learn more

The Bardo Arts Center offers a number of virtual opportunities on their website, including on-demand seminars, a virtual 360-degree museum tour and films from the School of Stage and Screen’s, Virtual Controlled Chaos Film Festival. These resources can be found at

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