On Tuesday, September 1, The Mendel Center was lit in red as part of Red Light RESTART, a nationwide awareness campaign focused on the financial plight of performing arts venues caused by the pandemic.
Like other live event venues across North America, The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College has, for the most part, been shuttered due to COVID-19. Since mid-March it has cancelled more than 100 events scheduled for its stages and gathering spaces.
“The ability to bring large numbers of people together to build community and connection through performances and events is the core of what we do at The Mendel Center,” stated Mike Nadolski, executive director of The Mendel Center. “With measures in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, our stages have been silent in the interest of public health. However, that doesn’t change the fact that our ability to generate revenue that is vital to covering overhead expenses has been drastically curtailed.”
Nadolski was quick to point out, though, that despite the challenges, The Mendel Center has innovatively worked to find new ways to serve southwestern Michigan and beyond.
“Behind the scenes, from kitchen tables and offices set up in living rooms, The Mendel Center team banded together – virtually at first during the early months of the pandemic and now virtually and in-person – to develop new programming, secure grant funding, and innovatively create new ways of providing services. Rather than retreating during this difficult time, we have found ways to remain relevant and forefront in our community.”
A few of the new offerings include:
Remotely Interested: Live to your Living Room
A virtual series of performances and live discussions from local, regional, and national artists. Live content is delivered through streaming services that allow the audience and artists to interact via chat before, during, and after the performance. New online performances and artist discussions will be announced in the coming weeks for the fall.
Drive-in Live! Concert Series
For the first time in its history, The Mendel Center has taken the fun outdoors. By using the expansive parking lots on either side of the facility, The Mendel Center has scheduled four socially distanced concerts featuring local and regional vocalists and musicians. It was one of the few entertainment activities available to residents of southwest Michigan and visitors to the area during the summer of 2020. It has also been one of the few paid opportunities for artists to share their talent and craft. The two remaining series performances are scheduled for September 19 and September 27. More information can be found at www.TheMendelCenter.com.
Mendel Center Connections
In the absence of in-person interactions, Mendel Center Connections is a weekly video series interview featuring community leaders and partners, area arts and non-profit organizations, and performers to keep the discussion flowing and deepen relationships throughout the community. A collection of all of the interviews are available at The Mendel Center’s YouTube channel.
Live Stream, Micro, and Outdoor Weddings
For more than 40 years, Grand Upton Hall has been the go-to venue for large weddings. However, with indoor events limited to 10 people most of the spring and summer, this important day had to be sidelined for many couples. By combining decades of wedding experience with state-of-the-art technology capabilities, The Mendel Center created Micro Weddings for gatherings of 10 or fewer people with a live stream option to allow family and friends to view the ceremony from anywhere in the world. The Mendel Center has also made use of its beautiful outdoor setting by making it available for outdoor ceremonies and receptions for 100 or fewer people, as allowed by the MI Safe Start plan.
Nadolski stressed that while these activities help keep The Mendel Center connected to the community, they don’t fill the financial gap left by the closure of the Mainstage and Hanson Theatre stages, and the inability to use spaces such as Grand Upton Hall to its fullest potential.
“We will continue to seek innovative ways to bridge the financial impact of this pandemic over the coming months so that when we are all on the other side of this, The Mendel Center can quickly re-emerge, stronger than ever, as the premiere performing arts and events center of our community,” Nadolski stated.
About The Mendel Center
The Mendel Center raised the curtain on its first Mainstage season performance in the fall of 1992. Since that time, it has presented Mainstage season performances to more than half a million patrons in the 1,559-seat Mendel Center Mainstage Theatre. Newly renovated Grand Upton Hall, first opened in 1979, is a 14,400-square-foot venue serving the community as the host site for meetings, banquets, trade shows, weddings, and other celebrations. The 234-seat Hanson Theatre is home to the Lake Michigan College Visual & Performing Arts Departments as well as a variety of Mendel Center and community events.