Inspiring People to Hang On
An interview with Van Wezel Foundation CEO, Cheryl Mendelson.
By Sylvia Whitman, SCENE Magazine. April 30, 2020
Isolated at home and forced to pause, Americans are thinking, evaluating, and prioritizing, Mendelson says. They see musicians stepping onto porches and playing their violins, singers performing in cyberspace. People flick their lights in solidarity. Around the world, artists—many of them Van Wezel performers at one time or another—continue “to inspire people to have hope to hang on.”
The foundation thanks donors for their continued support. “The hardest thing,” says Mendelson, “has been distancing. We are a high-touch industry. We see kids at a family performance; we see our donors in the hall.” Working remotely, the foundation staff has increased its communication—newsletters, phone calls, online updates. “People are thirsty for information,” she says. “We want to make sure that people are safe but continue to feel inspired.”
Recruited from Chicago, where she led the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, Mendelson says her post-Covid-19 focus remains helping the foundation write the next chapter—growing the hall while building a new world-class performing arts center as part of The Bay park master plan. Although the pandemic has created a climate of uncertainty, “it’s been inspiring to see forward thinking and new partnerships and collaboration locally and globally,” she says. “It’s remarkable to see our better selves rise. When we come together with our best, that’s when things get done better, faster than anyone envisioned before. My greatest hope is on other side.”
In the meantime, she imagines that kids in school online are learning about kindness and generosity of spirit. “We are excited to help play a role in keeping our teaching artists employed as well as making an investment in the teachers and educators whose expertise is critical in this time of crisis,” says Mendelson. “As we look to our future, one thing is certain: The arts are as relevant as ever in shaping the fabric of our lives.”