Straight Talk ...


Arvada Center President and CEO on rising COVID numbers and more

Philip C. Sneed, left, at the Front Porch Concert series featuring the Pierce Murphy Trio. Photo by Leslie Simon.Philip C. Sneed, left, at the Front Porch concert series featuring the Pierce Murphy Trio. Photo by Leslie Simon.

Seven months into the pandemic, the only thing certain is uncertainty

Welcome back to "Straight Talk," our ongoing series with leaders from the local theatre community about the unique challenges they face during the pandemic.

By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist

More than most, the Arvada Center has found ways to stay connected with its audiences since the COVID shutdown in March. But as the temperatures drop and the positive cases rise, the immediate future is as uncertain today as it was when cultural life as we know it ended seven months ago.

With so much unknown, it’s as good a time as any to check in again with Arvada Center President and CEO Philip Sneed.

Philip SneedJohn Moore: What is the present situation as far as COVID in Jefferson County?

Philip Sneed: In Jefferson County, like in most places in Colorado, the numbers are getting worse. But we're still at Level 2 ("Concern"), and we hope we don't go down to Level 3 ("High Risk"), because that will certainly restrict public activities further. Also, on Tuesday, the state’s seven-day positivity rate reached 6 percent, and it's supposed to be below 5 percent. So we have to consider the possibility that things will get more restrictive before they get less restrictive.

John Moore: If the state moves Jefferson County to Level 3, how would that affect what you have planned for the next couple of months?

Philip Sneed: We received word from the City of Arvada today that because of rising COVID case numbers, they are recommending that we cancel our "Trick Art Treat” event on Halloween day. Because summer has ended and we have nothing planned in the amphitheatre, there is nothing else that we should have to cancel there. But there are several other things we are thinking about doing that we might not be able to do if we go to Level 3.

John Moore: What are some of those plans?

Philip Sneed: Plans for the holiday season. Plans for a potential indoor music series in partnership with Dazzle Presents. There's no question that going to Level 3 would further limit our options for what we can do.

John Moore: You're now coming to a place on the calendar where your planned return to normal indoor theatre in late February is not as far away as it once seemed. Is that still realistic with this new spike in positive COVID cases?

Philip Sneed: Right now, we are making no changes to those plans. But we are, of course, doing the prudent thing and coming up with alternate programming scenarios if we can't go forward.

John Moore: When will you know more definitively?

Philip Sneed: We are going to have to make a decision probably no later than December. But we just don't have enough information to make that decision right now, so we are going to put that off for as long as we possibly can.

'If a bunch of us open back up and then start to have positive cases, I think that just sets us all back even further'

John Moore: Smaller, non-union theatre companies are starting to re-open for indoor theatre, and we are already getting reports of positive backstage COVID tests at several of those places. How does that inform your own enthusiasm to get people back into the theatre? 

Philip Sneed: Well, it validates our decision not to reopen until next year. And of course it makes the decision about whether to move forward ourselves with a February opening that much more difficult. If, in December, it looks like we have to change our plans, that kind of information, as well as the data, will factor into that decision. Because if a bunch of us open back up and then start to have positive cases, I think that just sets us all back even further.

John Moore: What else are you hearing from around the industry?

Philip Sneed: The Broadway League has said that Broadway will not be coming back until at least June. Our friends at the Denver Center have been told that they are not coming back until at least October of next year. Some of those folks are looking at 18-month furloughs, and I can't help but think that some of them will find other jobs and not return. One of the things we fear is that if we don't keep our creative folks at least somewhat employed during this theatre season, we will lose them. We value our team and, frankly, I don't want them to find other jobs.

Pivoting with ... Costume Designer Meghan Anderson Doyle

John Moore: And then there is the union.

Philip Sneed: None of us have any idea what the union is going to do.

Sweeney Todd student musical. Matt Gale PhotographyThe 'Sweeney Todd' student musical in the outdoor amphitheatre. Matt Gale Photography

John Moore: Now that we are seven months into this, what is the financial health of the Arvada Center?

Philip Sneed: Well, we had a big loss of just under $1.2 million for the last fiscal year. But because of our Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of just over $1 million, we are in a good position in terms of cash flow. We expect that all or most of that loan will be forgiven, which would help us maintain a healthy position this year. Unfortunately, we are not going to know for certain about that loan forgiveness until March or later. So we are going to have to make some decisions going forward without the certainty of knowing.

John Moore: How would a second federal stimulus package impact your recovery?

Philip Sneed: Well, I can't see that it would hurt. There is talk of another round of PPP loans, but there is so much unknown about that. We are not counting on another stimulus bill, but we certainly hope for another one that would provide relief not only for us but for all of the individual artists and craftspeople and production folks that we depend on whose careers are hanging on the line right now. We certainly hope they come up with some kind of package that considers all of the people whose livelihoods depend upon live events of all kinds, from operas to monster truck pulls.

''We certainly hope they come up with some kind of package that considers all of the people whose livelihoods depend upon live events of all kinds, from operas to monster truck pulls.'

John Moore: What has been the City of Arvada's role in your survival strategy?

Philip Sneed: They have done so much. To begin with, they have not reduced their annual appropriation to us, and they don't anticipate having to do so, which is great. They also sent $200,000 of their CARES Act money over to us. Those funds could only be spent on projects that we're doing specifically because of the pandemic. And that opened up a lot of possibilities for us, including buying more portable air-filtration systems for classrooms and producing our upcoming virtual holiday radio play. The high-quality digital cameras that we debuted this week with our live stream of the FRYS concerts were made possible through this funding.

John Moore: What’s FRYS?

Philip Sneed: Front Range Youth Symphony is our tuition-based youth symphony. We also have a tuition-based student dance company, and in normal times, they both perform here on our mainstage several times a year to packed houses. Instead, we had 50 to 75 safely socially distanced audience members watching the concert here, and we live-streamed it for everyone else watching from home.

John Moore: COVID or no, what's coming up that Arvada Center audiences can actually play to attend or experience over the next two months?

Black in Denver Philip Sneed: There will be a new photographic exhibition called “Black in Denver,” and it's just one of the ways in which we are responding to the national movement for social and racial justice. We found this exciting artist named Narkita Gold, whose body of portrait work takes a critical look at identity. It is not only high-quality from an artistic perspective, but I think it also helps people understand more about Black lives in general. If we say “Black Lives Matter,” and we believe that, then I think we need to take a closer look at what a Black life is really like. So “Black in Denver,” both through photos and the essays that accompany them, really opens that up in an artistic and engaging way.

John Moore: And, like “Pink Progression: Collaborations,” which closes November 8, that is something you can attend in person?

Philip Sneed: Yes, “Black in Denver” will take over our Upper and Theatre galleries from November 18 through December 27. The nice thing about the gallery experience is that unless we have a total shutdown, we should be able to keep our galleries open, because we can simply reduce the numbers if the county goes to another safety level. Theatre is not a better experience with fewer audience members, but the gallery experience can be quite nice with fewer people.

John Moore: And you mentioned there will be an as-yet unannounced third play in the current fall radio-play series, correct?

Philip Sneed: Yes. People really like this series, and they want more of it. The number of downloads for “Trifles” and “Dracula” (still available through November 1) have exceeded our projections, so it absolutely makes sense for us to do a holiday play next. We just can't announce the title until the rights are fully secured.

Read more: Zachary Andrews takes a one-man bite out of 'Dracula'

John Moore: Since the shutdown, every arts organization has had to choose whether to essentially shut down, or to do everything possible to maintain a programming connection to its audience. How would you describe the Arvada Center's response to that challenge?

Front Porch Philip Sneed: I absolutely think we have delivered on our promise. If I have any regrets at all about the past seven months, it's that we didn't do more. Like everybody else, we were scared at first, and I only wish we had been less so. We didn't know when people would be willing to come out again. We way underpriced our summer Front Porch concert series. Our own audiences told us that we didn’t charge them enough. But above all else, everyone’s safety was, and is, paramount. We had certain things planned that we didn't do because our staff let us know, "This doesn't feel safe." So we said, “Then we're not going to do it.” But, yes, I am proud of how much programming we have been able to put out there, across the board. I'm proud that we hit the ground running with virtual content very early into the pandemic. I’m proud that we found ways for 50 student musicians to perform a concert together while they were all quarantined in their homes. We had to put off the “Pink Progression: Collaborations” gallery opening for a month, but we got it up, and we got people there. Our team put together a magnificent Front Porch concert series. We pulled off the outdoor youth production of "Sweeney Todd." We hosted the Beth Malone concert and Cleo Parker Robinson's virtual 50th anniversary retrospective. Our students performed the world’s first Zoom musical. I am so proud of our "Amplify" series, and I look forward to where we take that idea next. So, yes, I am very proud of what we have done. I am glad that we have stayed engaged with our patrons. We are looking for ways to do more. And we will continue to adapt as the circumstances evolve.

Philip Sneed and Cleo Parker RobinsonPhilip Sneed and Cleo Parker Robinson.

John Moore: And yet we are entering a scary time of the year when the COVID numbers are going up and there is not as much opportunity to engage. What is your message to your audiences as we enter these cold and dark months?

Philip Sneed: I just hope everyone will join in the spirit of community and togetherness and embrace the idea that we are all in this together. And follow all prudent safety measures. That means mask-wearing, distancing and washing hands. The more people do that consistently, the sooner we can all get back to business; the sooner we can all return to live performances; the sooner we can fill our houses with people again. But when there are people who resist those measures, it just slows it down for everybody.

John Moore: During all of this, you launched your Reignite the Arts campaign. How has that come out?

Philip Sneed: Well, we’re not done yet. We've got another 10 days or so to go. We set an aspirational goal of $1 million, and we're going to keep pushing to get as close to that as we can.

John Moore: Where are you at right now?

Beth Malone in concert. Matthew Gale PhotographyBeth Malone in concert. Matthew Gale Photography

Philip Sneed: The last number I heard was about $762,000. The degree to which people have supported this, and the fact that some people have made multiple gifts, lets us know that we are valued. Even though many people are hurting, there are still people out there who are able to give, and even give more than in the past, to ensure that we survive. That's a huge vote of confidence that the staff and the board and the volunteers here all greatly appreciate. Because of that support, we'll make it through. People value us, and we don’t take that lightly. We don't want to let them down. So we are going to do everything we can to continue to have something for them to engage with: Radio plays, small concerts, classes, virtual offerings, whatever we can do. We are just going to put as much out there as we possibly can.

John Moore: Final words?

Philip Sneed: Just that we are so grateful to the people who have continued to support us, whether it's those who have donated to the Reignite the Arts campaign, those who are buying tickets for next season, or those who have called to say, "Hey, when can we come back to the Arvada Center? We miss you.” And we miss getting together with them to enjoy art, to learn from art and to celebrate community.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine during his time at The Denver Post. He also is the founder of The Denver Actors Fund, and is now contributing reports on the arts community for ArvadaCenter.Org. Reach him at

Home,Reignite the Arts,Art at Home,Support Arvada Center Artists,Virtual Auction,Donate Now,Donate Now,Corporate Giving,Art Circle,2023-2024 Theatre Season,Renew,Visit Us,View All Events,Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express,Roland Bernier: In Other Words,Word Play,Animal Farm,Cleo Parker Robinson Dance presents Summer Suite,Big Band Royalty,Lola Montejo: After Another After,Floyd D. Tunson: Ascent,Anthony Garcia Sr: Pigment,A Tribute to the Boston Pops,The CJRO presents A Night of Sizzling Soul with Larry Braggs,Pink Martini featuring China Forbes,Carlou D,Pamela Webb: Hand + Hammer,Lauri Lynnxe Murphy: Seeing the Trees For the Forest,Pink Progression: Collaborations,Imprint: Print Educators of Colorado,528.0 Regional Juried Printmaking Exhibition,Wood.Works,Carley Warren: Three Pieces,Viral Influence: Art in the Time of Coronavirus,Brady Smith: (Don’t be embarrassed by) Your Trouble with Living,Melody Epperson: 100 Years + 1,Blurring The Line,Dawes,Melissa Etheridge,Narkita Gold: Black In Denver,Australian Pink Floyd,José González,Art of the State 2022,Into The Woods,Rockley Instrument Sale,Elle King,Madeleine Peyroux In Concert,One Sheet,The River Bride,Fine Art Market,Holiday Pottery Sale,The History of African American Music Part 3,Hazel Miller and the Collective: Christmas with Soul,Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey,Gary Staab: Second Nature,Flora: Scientific Botanical Illustrations of Colorado Plants,Charlotte's Web,Art + Science,Jeffco Schools Foundation High School Art Exhibition,Arts For All Gala,Wendy Kowynia: Following the Thread,Spring Pottery Sale,Teacher Appreciation Concert,A Year With Frog and Toad,Damn Yankees,Bueno: Mark Bueno,Mary Poppins,A Tribute to Chick Corea with Eric Gunnison,Big Band Royalty: Nothin’ But the Blues,Latin Sounds From Legendary Artists,Swing, Swing, Swing: Benny and Beyond ,Denver Gay Men's Chorus: Divas, Icons and Justice Warriors,Keb' Mo',Ben Folds,Lucero,Face Vocal Band,George Thorogood and the Destroyers,Toad the Wet Sprocket and Cracker,A Night at the Movies with the Colorado Symphony,The Denver Brass: In Pursuit of Leisure,Our Town,The Book Club Play,Boz Scaggs,The Ladies of Soul,Guitar Stars and Friends,Rocky Mountain Guitar Stars,Mozart Under Moonlight,Big Draw Colorado,Beautiful - The Carole King Musical,Drawn: From The Source,Collective Soul,Ramón Bonilla: The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places for me.,Indigo Girls,Dining Partners,Amplify,Amplify Performers,Theatre,Upcoming Shows,2023-2024 Theatre Season,Performances for Students,Auditions,Million Dollar Quartet Auditions,The Laramie Project Open Auditions,Cinderella Local General Auditions,Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 Local Auditions,Holiday Plays,Galleries,Current Exhibitions,Wood.Works Know Before You Go,Gallery Events,Upcoming Exhibitions,Art Sales,Art Submissions,Viral Influence Call for Entry,Big Draw Colorado,Sculpture Field,History Museum,Archive,Education,View All Classes,Summer Camps,Full Day,Summer Camp Performances,FAQ,Classes for Kids,Classes for Adults,Ceramics,Front Range Youth Symphony,Dance Academy,Arts Day,Arts Day Outreach,Ageless Adults,Scholarships,Yesterado,Teen Intensive 2021,Yesterado,Field Trips and Outreach,ECE Field Trips,K-5 Field Trips,Middle and High School Field Trips,Outreach Programs,Preschool Partnership Program,Music and Dance,Jeffrey Siegel,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra,Summer Concerts,AEDA Summer Concerts,Humanities,On Their Shoulders We Stand,Private Event Rentals,Caterers,Vendors,Straight Talk Series ,Straight Talk with Philip Sneed,COVID’s toll on Colorado theatre: 224 productions and counting ,Straight Talk with Lynne Collins,Straight Talk with Rod Lansberry,Straight Talk with Phamaly, Buntport, Colorado Shakes and Rocky Mountain Rep,Straight Talk with Creede Rep, Town Hall, Candlelight and Theatre Company of Lafayette,Straight Talk with Aurora Fox, BDT Stage, Cherry Creek Theatre and Misfits,Straight Talk with Su Teatro, Vintage, Backstage and Counterweight,Straight Talk with Local Theater Company, Theater 29, The Source and Equinox,Straight Talk with the Denver Center, Jesters Dinner Theatre, Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and Germinal Stage-Denver,Actors' union issues safety guidelines for re-opening,Straight Talk with square product, Forge Light, Springs Ensemble Theatre and Coal Creek Theatre of Louisville,Straight Talk with the Fine Arts Center, Miners Alley Playhouse, Dangerous Theatre and Lone Tree Arts Center ,Straight Talk with Lake Dillon Theatre Company, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Northglenn Arts,Straight Talk with The Catamounts, Bas Bleu and Thingamajig,Straight Talk with Curious Theatre Company,Straight Talk with OpenStage, Firehouse and Adams Mystery Playhouse,Straight Talk with Platte Valley Players and Theatreworks,Straight Talk with Parker Arts, Stories on Stage and Thunder River ,Staight Talk 2 with Philip Sneed: This much is uncertain,Pivoting With,Pivoting with The Black Actors Guild,Pivoting with ... Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones,Pivoting With ... Tammy Franklin and the Curtain Playhouse,Pivoting With Nick Sugar and the Town Hall Arts Center,Pivoting With Helen Murray and the Aurora Fox,Pivoting with Edith Weiss and Christy Montour Larson,Pivoting With Scott RC Levy and the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company,Pivoting with Todd Debrecini for Halloween,Pivoting with Ashley Campbell,Pivoting with Meghan Anderson Doyle,Pivoting with Jenna Moll Reyes,Pivoting with Erik Fellenstein,Pivoting with Ray Bailey ,Pivoting with Tara Falk,Community News,Inside the Arvada Center,Director's Notes: A Midsummer Night's Dream,All About Printmaking Techniques,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Collin Parson ,Arvada Center Makes Masks,Christina Noel-Adcock,"Bright Star" cast unveils video as message of hope,Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Christine Moore,Humans of the Arvada Center: Steven Cogswell,Humans of the Arvada Center: Ashi K. Smythe,City of Arvada to install new sculpture in Hoskinson Park,Humans of the Arvada Center Jessie Page,Here are the 2019-20 Henry Award nominations,Arvada Center to Offer Students World’s First Zoom Musical,Humans of the Arvada Center Cal Meakins,Humans of the Arvada Center: Adam Stolte,Supreme Court workplace ruling hits home for Lisa Leafgreen,'Time for talk is over': Arvada Center launch 'Amplify' series to raise black male voices,Humans of the Arvada Center Jon Olson ,New Arvada Center, Aurora Fox seasons reflect current complexities,It's virtually impossible not to have fun in our summer camps,News roundup: Who The Denver Actor's Fund DEAR Fund has helped,Humans of the Arvada Center: Abygail Rosales,Pink Progression Collaborations: Jina Brenneman and Margaret Kasahara,Pink Progression: Julia Rymer and Drew Austin,Revealing The Dialogue,Amplify Epiode 3 launches, series expanding to include black women,Photo Blog: Sweeney Todd Rehearsals,Humans of the Arvada Center: Gabriel Morales,Pink Progression: Sangeeta Reddy and Jodie Roth Cooper,Front Porch Series Kickoff,Cleo Parker Robinson dances back in the box with Arvada Center,Amplify turns the mic over to local Black women ,Beth Malone bringing 'joy bomb' to Arvada Center oon September 4,Theatre news: Live streaming panel Monday on a big new 'Idea',Humans of the Arvada Center: Meet Emily King,Amplify Women Episode 2,Special Book Honors Special Dance Teacher,Arvada Center pivots to radio-play series for fall ,amplify-series-comes-to-powerful-conclusion,How COVID is impacting individual artists,Take a stroll through 'Sculpture in the Field',Arts In Education Week,Colorado Theatre News: Miscast pivots to CAST ,Essay: Was the Aurora Fox a safe house on Opening Night? ,Lessons from a summer of outdoor theatre in the time of COVID ,Humans of the Arvada Center: John Hamilton,Theatre news of the week: DCPA launches Recovery Fund,Zachary Andrews take a one-man bite out of 'Dracula',Spotlight Manos Soap,Doreen Montalvo in Denver: Compassion and grit,What to do: Theatre happenings for October 23,Betty Hart's presidential promise: Build a bigger tent,Theatre happenings October 30,Virtual theatre sprouts a new branch with Arvada Center's 'The Family Tree',Humans of the Arvada Center: Brenna Clendaniel and Sophia Koop,Theatre happenings November 12,the barnstormers are back,On being Black in Denver and all the colors that it brings,Getting to Know: Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales,Theatre happenings November 19: Companies entering cancellation mode,2021 in live theatre: A look into the Crystal Ball,2020 True West Awards: Buntpivot ,2020 True West Awards: Lily Bradford,2020 True West Awards: The Scenesters,2020 True West Awards: Podcastic,2020 True West Awards: Phamaly takes 'Honk' to Japan,2020 True West Awards: Christine Moore,2020 True West Awards: Alive Inside,2020 True West Awards: Michael Ensminger,True West Awards: They Wrote the Book,True West Awards: Rent-A-Pals,True West Awards: Of Spacious Skies,True West Awards: Christopher Page-Sanders,2020 True West Awards: Suffer the little children,2020 True West Awards: Spirit of Giving,2020 True West Awards: Secret Gardeners,2020 True West Awards: Denis Berkfeldt,2020 True West Awards: Amplify,2020 True West Awards: Reclaiming One Star,2020 True West Awards: William Hahn and Jessica Robblee,2020 True West Awards: Lisa Wagner Erickson,'The Family Tree affords actors rare chance to work during pandemic,SCFD: New picture of COVID carnage on metro nonprofits,New Arvada Center video offers diverse slate of holiday stories,20 for 20,Meet the Frasers,Bev Newcomb-Madden: Colorado's feisty, ferocious fairy godmother passes away ,Lucy Roucis' final act is a gutpunch,Reunite the Arts Collin Parson,Jodie Steeves and Nancy Terry,Reunite the Arts Lisa Leafgreen,Remembering John Gratkins,Reunite the Arts: From our CEO,Adapting the Great Gatsby,Small Mouth Sounds returns,Danielle Johnson Q&A,Reunite the Arts Lynne Collins,The Show Must Go On,Diana and Mike Kinsey,Get to Know Kazu Oba,Meet Suzanna Champion,The Gear of Million Dollar Quartet,FRYS and the Symphony,Get to Know Carlou D,Stories From the Studio,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Lares Feliciano,21 for 21,An interview with Geoffrey Kent: The Liar,Art of the State 2022 Awards,An interview with Jada Suzanne Dixon: Stick Fly,An interview with Jessica Robblee: Animal Farm,Fast Facts About Kinky Boots,Costume Department Boots Up,Rod A Lansberry Announces Retirement from Arvada Center,Lynne Collins Named Artistic Director of Arvada Center Theatre,Getting to Know José González,2022 Henry Award Nominations,Getting to Know Joan Osborne and Madeleine Peyroux,Sit Under the Stars at the Front Porch Series ,The Many Sounds of Carlou D,The Tunes of the Daniella Katzir Band,Setting the mood: Into the Woods Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Into the Woods Directors Note,The River Bride Director's Note,What is Magical Realism?,Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Ana María Hernando,The CJRO Sessions featuring Robert Johnson,Meet Ceramics Artist Luanne Burke,From student to teacher: Hadley’s story,Tackling the Beast,Be Like Belle on Colorado Gives Day,Things to Know About Our Town,Creating the Look of Our Town: A Q and A with Set Designer Brian Mallgrave,Whatever Lola Wants - A Deep Dive into the Damn Yankees Signature Song,Selling Your Soul - A Pop Culture Favorite,The Book Club Play Reads,Metatheatre Elements in Our Town - When a Play Knows It's a Play,90s Throwback Vibe with Arvada Center 2023 Summer Concert Series,Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra at the Arvada Center,Arts Advocacy,Volunteer,About Us,Ticketing Policies,Group Tickets,Ticket Discounts,Contact Us,Accessibility,Health and Safety,Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access,Careers,Know Before You Go,Tours,Adopt an Actor 2023,Adopt An Artwork,Temp,Virtual Theatre FAQ,New Website ,Pink Progression Events,On Demand Troubleshooting,Blog,Lorem ipsum,Lorem ipsum 2,Newk’s,Steuben’s Arvada,The Family Tree FAQ,Home for the Holidays,Land Acknowledgement,What To Expect at the Theatre,One Sheet Music,Gift Certificates,Gala,Gala Sponsors,Errors,404,The Family Tree Dining Offers,Privacy Policy,Our Town Synopsis,Concessions