PBS, WNET Group Launch Programming Celebrating Arts During COVID-19 Pandemic

PBS and The WNET Group are launching a multi-platform campaign dubbed #PBSForTheArts, which will pay tribute to the struggle and resilience of American artists and arts organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The programming is from the team behind the “Great Performances” series, a long-running look at the best of classical music, opera, musical theater, dance, drama and other live events.

“An artist has to make art, an artist has to perform, but in the past year that was much more difficult,” says David Horn, executive producer of the “Great Performances” series. “There have been a lot of stories of artists who were furloughed or musicians who couldn’t tour, and we want to make people aware of that. But we also don’t want this to be a story of negativity. Because a lot of positive things happened with people reinventing themselves to figure out how to do things remotely.”

The campaign will include both broadcast and digital programming that will highlight some of those pandemic era productions, such as a retelling of “Romeo & Juliet” that was filmed at the shuttered National Theatre. It will also include a special report, “The Arts Interrupted” that will provide a look at the months of uncertainty that arts organizations faced as the pandemic raged.

It’s not just performing arts groups that were negatively impacted by coronavirus. PBS will air a three-part series “Inside the Met,” which provides a deep dive into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s efforts to survive amid the pandemic and its response to the demands for social justice that corresponded with its 150th anniversary.

In the fall of 2020, the show’s producers decided to rejigger their content to reflect the cultural upheaval wrought by the crisis. The series hits as theaters are slowly reopening and museums and other institutions are gingerly welcoming back patrons. Many of these organizations are still facing financial shortfalls after months with limited revenues.

“Vaccinations are being made available and things are improving, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before things are a hundred percent,” says Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and general manager of general audience programming for PBS. “It’s not clear what that would even look like. We want to ask questions about what we need to keep the arts going and to make them sustainable.”

The #PBSForTheArts collection of programs includes:

Premieres: Friday, April 23, 9:00 p.m. ET
Experience a contemporary rendering of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy from the National Theatre where a company of actors in a shuttered theater bring to life the timeless tale of two young lovers. Stars Golden Globe winner Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley.

Premieres: Friday, May 7, 9:00 p.m. ET
Experience Anton Chekov’s masterpiece in this Olivier Award-nominated West End production adapted by Conor McPherson starring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage from London’s Harold Pinter Theater.

GREAT PERFORMANCES: “The Arts Interrupted”
Premieres: Friday, May 14, 9:00 p.m. ET
How have the arts been managing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Arts organizations across America share their survival stories, along with examples of streamed performances, from COVID-19 inspired theater to site-specific operas. Learn how the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have impacted America’s emerging artists.

Premieres: Friday, May 14, 10:00 p.m. ET
Join the American Pops Orchestra, Maestro Luke Frazier and a star-studded cast for an exciting evening of songs that bring us together. Filmed in front of a small, socially distanced live audience under strict COVID-19 mitigation procedures, the program features performances by “Crazy-Ex Girlfriend’s” Gabrielle Ruiz (joining APO from Los Angeles); “America’s Got Talent” vocalist Rayshun LaMarr; Broadway star and recording artist Morgan James; Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes; and celebrated recording artist Nova Payton. Hosted by Emmy and Tony Award winner Judith Light.

Premieres: Fridays, May 21-28, 9:00 p.m. ET
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the Americas, prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday with a treasure trove of landmark exhibitions. When COVID-19 strikes, the world shuts down and, for the first time in its history, the Met closes its doors indefinitely. Then, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the museum is met with urgent demands for social justice. Facing an uncertain future and questioning its very purpose, this great institution makes history in ways no one could have predicted.

Premieres: Friday, May 28, 10 p.m. and 10:30pm ET
Join us for a new 30-minute series featuring the American Pops Orchestra celebrating uniquely American music. Hosted by Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, “The Sacred” features music that transcends its original genre and audience — music once only performed in church adapted by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin to be shared beyond the walls of the sanctuary. Hosted by Tony Award winner Jesse Mueller, “Broadway” features classic showtunes recorded by the Rat Pack, Johnny Mathis and other chart-topping artists of the time, as well as musical theater songs that give a broader voice to our changing society.

Various Fridays March-July 2021
From PBS NEWSHOUR, and hosted by Amna Nawaz, this half-hour program showcases some of the nation’s leading cultural creators—musicians, playwrights, comedians, costume designers, among many others—who show us how they turn their visions of the world into art. Topics to be examined include finding meaning in writing; what it takes to achieve excellence; trailblazing women in the arts; the power of music to honor the past and inspire the future; and arts of Mexico.

PBS Digital Studios – Original Episodes of SOUND FIELD
As part of an ongoing arts content partnership with the classical arts organization The Cliburn, PBS Digital Studios and General Audience Programming will partner with Twin Cities PBS to produce special episodes of the Webby-winning music education series, SOUND FIELD, in May 2021. Beyond utilizing The Cliburn’s extensive library of concert performances, their roster of affiliated performers and their consultation on writing/research throughout these episodes, this collaboration will illustrate the goal of the #PBSForTheArts campaign to highlight the creative work being done by arts organizations at all levels throughout the country.

Nahre Sol, a touring pianist and classical composer and a co-host from SOUND FIELD’s season one, will return for these two episodes. These SOUND FIELD episodes will showcase diversity in classical music and generate awareness about #PBSforTheArts among younger, diverse audiences across PBS digital platforms.

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