Cherokee Office of Economic Development · Cherokee by Choice.

Coronavirus: Stories of How Entrepreneurs in Cherokee County, GA are Adapting, Part 9

March 29, 2020

Story 9: Christopher Brazelton, Elm Street Cultural Arts Village, Woodstock, GA.

ELM STREET STARTED AS A LOCAL NON-PROFIT THEATRE IN 2002.

Elm Street (then Towne Lake Arts Center) provides performing arts productions, classes, and camps to and with the surrounding community. Elm Street Cultural Arts Village was formed to provide not only theatrical arts but visual arts, music, dance, and culinary arts. To do so, Elm Street and the City of Woodstock collaborated on acquiring a 4-acre property and green space to grow this vision. | Christopher Brazelton is Executive Director of Elm Street Cultural Arts Village.

1. How has the COVID-19 situation impacted your business recently?

To my knowledge, I think Elm Street was the first business to call it in the Downtown Woodstock area (those are NOT bragging rights). Our business is fitting as many people into a confined space to experience something together — not conducive to the times. We felt a responsibility to close given the situation, but it has had a dramatic effect. We have built a diversity of income streams at Elm Street over the last few years, but with one decision we reduced about 10 income line items to 1: donations. We made the decision about 6 hours before the curtain for opening night. It was heartbreaking.

2. How have you and your business adapted to the situation?

First, it was ‘make a decision and go’ because so many people were affected by those decisions. The staff (I LOVE my staff) has been working around the clock to work with artists, teachers, agencies, other venues, and licensing companies to fix the issues created by COVID-19. We have had to cancel or postpone 41 public events and over 75 classes and/or lessons between Mar 12 — May 1st. So at first, it was solely about getting our heads above water.

BUT some great things have come since then. We were able to work with the playwright of the show we had to cancel and directly work with him. He, the team, and the staff made a commitment to share this story still and we created a digital experience for the show. It encompasses some of the community engagement pieces we were planning for in-person, as well as a recording of the show. You can see if here: https://elmstreetarts.org/helvetica-the-digital-experience/.

We are experimenting with more digital options. Be on the lookout this week!

Also, our big season reveal party was postponed. But seeing that we don’t have the end date of this quite yet…. we are looking into ways to throw the biggest virtual party we can. It is a fun challenge, but mostly it is about all of our future programmings, so it will be a nice reminder that there is another end to social distancing — and we will be ready for it. I think the party will be fun 🙂

3. How have you prepared and led your team/employees?

The more uncertain I am, the more transparent I’ve challenged myself to be. That’s required me to be vulnerable with a fair amount of “I don’t know”s and “give me some time to find out”s. But I believe it has built trust.

The more uncertain I am, the more transparent I’ve challenged myself to be.

The more uncertainty there is the fewer guarantees there are. But what I can guarantee is that I have their back — and have been clear with my goals to get through it. My main goal is that all of my staff are still there when we are finally able to open back up.

4. What new things/perspectives (or old ones reinforced) have you learned about yourself, your business, and/or your community?

If I’m honest I was very frustrated with the circumstances and getting in my head about solutions at first. “Social distancing” is such a contrast to what Elm Street stands for. We value connection, engagement, community…. but we’ve built those things based on in-person art experiences… being together.

But as I’ve been forced to look at the situation and how Elm Street can help in spite of everything, I’ve remembered that:

  • Connection transcends distance,
  • Community is hardly confined to a place,
  • Engagement follows initiative and grit more than polished products.

Connection transcends distance and community is hardly confined to a place…

5. How have you stayed focused and positive?

The staff has had daily Zoom meetings. I was fearful that this might end up being too much… but it has actually turned into a very positive time — even in the hard discussions. They last a little over an hour organically and when we have to make a hard decision, we look at it through the context of ‘given this instance, what is going to be the best experience for our audiences’. That sort of primary objective aligns us and turns the decision into easy action items given our limitations now. It also provides a sense of purpose when we could easily lose it right now.

6. What are some encouraging thoughts or stories you have heard that have kept you grounded?

I see *many* people genuinely worried about our community as a whole — and then turn it into action (as best as possible). Any time our community rallies around something is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night with excitement. Even with the exhaustive uncertainty, the efficacy for all of us to get through it is present.

Any time our community rallies around something is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night with excitement.

7. How can we as a community best support you during this tough time?

The arts industry as a whole has been hit hard. While many businesses are limited we are completely halted. However, the arts industry is *exceptional* at stimulating the economy, especially in a respective local area. Here are 3 ways to help your local arts center:

  • Consider buying a ticket now for a show/concert in the future (especially when we launch the next season),
  • If you have a ticket to a production and we have to cancel, consider turning the value of that ticket into a tax-deductible donation rather than requesting a refund,
  • Like many, the postponements have condensed our schedule once we can open up again. See what shows you might help volunteer for and help us create those great moments!

To learn more about Christopher Brazelton and Elm Street Cultural Arts Village, visit https://elmstreetarts.org/ online or follow them on social media.

Stay tuned for future stories as we continue to shed a light on local entrepreneurs. We hope you are inspired by these stories and motivated to stay in the game to support them together.


Have ideas, questions or stories? Reach out to us at cherokeega.org or emailing us directly at info@cherokeega.org.