When COVID-19 began impacting life in Iowa a year ago, there were few options for arts and culture organizations. Most had to cancel programming, fundraisers, and other events. Some transitioned to virtual programming, but not without first investing in new technologies.
To support local attractions, last month the Community Foundation teamed up with the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office to create Freebie February. Through this collaboration, residents and visitors could receive free admission or memberships to ten area organizations. People who signed up received vouchers, which can be used throughout the year as they feel comfortable. The vouchers were claimed within one day.
“Freebie February was designed to offer support to local museums and entertainment venues that have seen a dramatic impact on revenue during the pandemic and following the derecho,” said Jennifer Pickar, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Cedar Rapids Tourism Office.
One of the participating organizations was The History Center. When their doors closed in March 2020, the staff immediately began searching for ways to deliver programming virtually. “We have a very gifted staff, and they wasted no time,” said Executive Director Jason Wright. “In the first six months, we had created more than 80 different programs and were tabulating more than 23,000 views per month.”
The summer months allowed for some outdoor programming, but the pandemic still took its toll, and the difficult situation was made worse by the derecho. The History Center now has two temporary exhibits open for limited attendance.
Another participating organization, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, saw the celebration of its 125th anniversary derailed.
“We embraced the digital formats and tackled the learning curve to ensure that our patrons still had access to the Museum and its programs,” said Sean Ulmer, Executive Director. “People expressed to us time and time again the need for art in their lives to help them get through the pandemic.”
After reopening, the Museum had to reorganize the exhibition schedule. Exhibits scheduled for 2020 will now take place in 2021.
Freebie February aims to help during this incremental return to normalcy. “We saw it as a way to offer financial support during a slow time for visitors, while also bringing visitors into their doors throughout the year,” Jennifer said. “We will continue to communicate with those receiving vouchers to encourage use and extra spending at museum stores, concessions, and local shops and restaurants while out and about.”