‘Keeping the spirit of the community alive’ at Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center

Original article published on the CU Independent here.

Boulder’s Dairy Arts Center, usually teeming with community members and creators, now sits empty and dark on Walnut Street. A community hub, the Dairy is Boulder’s largest multi-disciplinary arts center, featuring dance, theater, music, independent films, comedy and art. However, due to Colorado’s stay-at-home directives with COVID-19, the Dairy has been forced to close their doors and furlough most of their staff. 

The Dairy’s executive director Melissa Fathman said closing the Dairy felt like an “awful decision.” Earlier in March, she had to furlough 32 workers, including herself, because they could not “make ends meet.” A non-profit, the Dairy’s $1.6 million budget is not sustainable without revenue from performances. 

“This time is completely disruptive in terms of how we behave, how we interact with one another and how we do business even,” Fathman said. “We have no idea how long we will be closed.” 

Beyond the impact at the Dairy, Fathman shared that she believes the COVID-19 pandemic is a “historical disruptor,” which will change our society forever. Throughout history, disruptive, technological innovations, such as the creation of cars and computers and tragic landmark events have reshaped our world. She likens the pandemic to the tragedy of 9/11, taking away parts of daily life we “take for granted.”  

“Before 9/11, you just take for granted that a building is going to be there. It’s something you never really question,” Fathman said. “Then it’s not in the space of a few hours.”

COVID-19 will have a “long term impact” she said, which is “tragic, hard and sad.” But Fathman remains optimistic that the Dairy can continue to creatively connect the Boulder community through the tragedy. 

“Like other disruptors in history, I know there’s a second part, a beautiful and eye-opening part, where we all discover things about ourselves,” Fathman said. “For some, it’s a sense of bravery we never knew we had or the thrill of being generous for the first time. In our case at the Dairy, it’s these bursts of creativity we didn’t know we had.”

These “bursts of creativity” include a new online program called Free Range Dairy. Fathman joked they are “not penned in the building any more” but instead “roaming around” free-range. The Dairy is creatively expanding beyond their traditional forms of “presenting artistic forms in a brick and mortar building.”  

A “Virtual Story Slam” on Zoom on Sunday, April 4, at 6 p.m. will kick off Free Range Dairy’s live online events.  Live stage performances with “Stories on Stage” will follow on April 9 at 7 p.m. also. on Zoom. In addition, the Dairy’s current art exhibition and several independent films will be available online. While the quarantine continues, Fathman hopes this program can continue to grow and evolve, supporting both the community and its artists. 

“As a community venue, we want to have our page be available to artists that don’t have the resources,” Fathman said. “We want to keep the spirit of the community alive.”

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