Arts nonprofits retain employees, find innovative ways to continue programming during pandemic

Organizations in Fargo-Moorhead are keeping busy through shift to virtual offerings, securing funding.

The marquee of the Fargo Theatre, seen here on April 1, offers a message to passers-by during the coronavirus pandemic. Forum file photo

FARGO — With revenue losses in the arts sector reaching an estimated $6.7 billion across the nation earlier this month, according to ongoing findings from Americans for the Arts, many staple art institutions still face unknowns as doors begin to reopen across Fargo-Moorhead.

But while community nonprofits formulate plans for how to offer their creative services, either online or at reduced capacity, there’s plenty of small wins to celebrate.

Take Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre , for example. Leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the theater was already in crisis mode, dealing with structural issues with its Fargo venue, The Stage at Island Park, causing them to temporarily locate and pause mainstage programming.

The Stage at Island Park as seen Dec. 19, 2019, after structural issues forced the building to be closed. Forum file photo


But throughout the whirlwind that now includes dealing with a pandemic, Artistic Director Adam Pankow says the biggest win is that the organization retained all 10 of its full-time employees.

"Through all that FMCT has experienced, I think we've had some small wins, actually bigger than small — we've had some gigantic wins," Pankow says as he works tirelessly during their move out of The Stage at Island Park.

Community members joined FMCT staff to help move countless props and costumes. McGough Construction even got involved by helping with the move and provided T-shirts and refreshments.

Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre staff and community members pose for a picture after a long day of helping move boxes of props and costumes out of The Stage at Island Park before it undergoes remodeling. This support is just one example of how nonprofits are keeping busy while crowdsourcing help during the COVID-19 pandemic. FMCT / Special to the Forum

New ideas

The Fargo Theatre has retained all four of its full-time employees, too.

"Even though the theater is temporarily closed, we knew that we needed to stay connected with our audiences and we’ve been able to do that online," says Sean Volk, who started his full-time position of development and engagement manager just weeks before the global crisis — and engage is exactly what he’s doing, even without the theater open to the public.

Volk hosts Netflix watch parties, a monthly film club on Zoom and even expanded the theater's wildly popular popcorn sales to online orders as well.


"My experience starting in this new role has been so positive, even with the pandemic," Volk says. "Our executive director, Emily Beck, has shown real leadership and guides our team with a great deal of care and openness as we’ve worked and programmed over the last few months."


  • All smiles as local program brings colorful animal paintings to walls of a Fargo dentistry practice "It's amazing that we can have these beautiful pieces of work that are crafted in our own backyard in Fargo," says Austin Vetter, owner of Vetter Dental.

  • TikTok time as local artists venture into new web spaces with video app The platform allows users to create catchy clips around 15 seconds long featuring people singing, dancing and even creating works of art.

  • Young musicians create online video series with weekly performances During the quarantine, some Fargo-Moorhead musicians turn to internet for performances.

  • Keeping summer creative as F-M dance companies, arts organizations look to reopen Open registration originally scheduled to take place in April was pushed back to give the studio time to develop a comprehensive list of restart policies and procedures, complying with Gov. Doug Burgum’s ND Smart Restart guidelines.

Since the theater's closure, the staff has raised approximately $43,800 in donations and received a $50,000 matching grant from the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau . They have until the end of July to raise the remaining $6,200 to receive the full match.

The director and CEO of Fargo's Plains Art Museum , Andy Maus, says they have been doing all they can to reduce the need for layoffs.

"Our retention has been very good and our staff are in good spirits and are being creative in how they approach their work across the organization," he says.

The Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo. Forum file photo

The Plains received support from the FMCVB in the form of a $50,000 grant, which has already been matched by support from several people and organizations — most of them local. They also got $20,000 from Art Bridges, a foundation associated with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., to help expand virtual classes.


In Moorhead, the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County kept employees busy by doing archival work, keeping all eight of the full-time staff members on with plans to bring back three part-time staff who were laid off back in March.

Now open daily from noon to 5 p.m., the public has shown excitement for getting back to the Hjemkomst Center by renewing memberships and sending financial gifts, coming though with over $10,000. HCSCC also will receive a matching grant from the FMCVB of up to $50,000.

“Our members have been loyally renewing their memberships even as the museum has been closed because they believe in our mission and want to support us in our time of need,” says Maureen Jonason, HCSCC's executive director.

The Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Forum file photo

The anticipated Red River Watercolor Society’s National Juried Watermedia Exhibition is currently available to view in person as well as online. Visit to see the 2020 show.

Finally, Fargo-Moorhead Opera set a precedent to support their artists by paying out their Gate City Young Artists in full — even though they were sent home early due to the outbreak in March.

"We want those artists to be able to survive and be here to perform for us when this is all over," General Director David Hamilton says.


While FM Opera has experienced losses in ticket sales and fundraising events, the organization has managed to keep its three full-time employees on board and remains optimistic it will be able to continue the upcoming season.

While their Gate City Young Artist program was cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring, the FM Opera still paid their artists in full. Kara Covey pictured in the foreground while rehearsing for “Speed Dating Tonight” which only ran one night. Ethan Mickelson / Special to the Forum

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit

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