A Hamlet Sort of Moment in the Time of COVID-19

(photo credit: Gabe Palacio)



Jeff Haydon is in a contemplative sort of mood. As CEO of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, he is pondering a momentous decision. Every summer since 1945, there has been a music festival at its 90-acre property in Katonah, NY, 50 miles north of New York City. Caramoor’s renowned music festival brings music lovers to Westchester from distant places. Now as Jeff Haydon watches the daily coronavirus updates, he struggles to determine whether this year’s eagerly anticipated concert season is “to be or not to be.”

Summer is fast approaching, and Haydon and his staff have been planning for the past three years for its 75th anniversary season which is set to feature opera, classical music, jazz, world music and American Roots traditions in the 1,800-seat Venetian Theater and its 500-seat Spanish Courtyard. However, the uncertainty over how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, and the taboo on gatherings of all kinds has required Haydon to do what he always tries to do – think creatively. This year, in the midst of this pandemic, he is noodling several different options for continuing, shrinking, or rethinking the festival. Fortunately, he has options. Since his arrival at Caramoor some seven years ago, Haydon has worked with his board to foster year-round performances at a variety of spaces on the property, including the Music Room of the Rosen House and throughout the gardens. There’s also more to see and do now at Caramoor than when Lucie and Walter Rosen first donated the estate for a cultural center. While the festival is the highlight of the summer season in Westchester, the gardens have become more spectacular than ever, and there are public art sound art sculptures to be seen, as well.  And, there is an exciting master plan in the works that will turn the Center into a major outdoor destination.

Cultural leaders throughout America are facing similar heart-wrenching decisions about their programs. Can we keep doing what we’ve been doing? Or, is this a time to leverage our creativity to revive our cultural life in new ways? Last, can cultural leaders find new ways to balance the needs and hopes of audiences, donors, artists and the loyal crew of stage hands and producers?  Jeff Haydon believes we can, through creative stewardship and newly imagined partnerships. “While the tendency is to solely focus on the financial challenges, we have to remember that the arts provide inspiration all of us need in times of crises – we just have to be more creative in how we reach our audiences.”