Our View: Save the arts

Our View: Save the arts
Guests applauding at an outdoor concert hosted by Classical Movements. Courtesy photo.

“Don’t it always seem to go/ That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

When singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell released her hit song “Big Yellow Taxi” in 1970, those words were already relevant. Has there been a decade since 1970 where those words weren’t relatable on some level?

But Mitchell’s lyrics seem particularly germane right now. Under the locked-down, socially distanced conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had to give up things that may not have seemed essential to our lives a year ago.

Maybe it’s an indoor dining experience at a local restaurant or a live concert. These small pleasures, and the industries that provide them, are all casualties of the pandemic as well.

That’s why we should champion organizations like local classical music tour company Classical Movements. For months, this company has hosted small, socially distanced out-door chamber music concerts without a single reported case of COVID-19.

Classical Movements found an effective way to bring live classical music to the public during the pandemic. At a time when concert halls around the world had shut down and unable to host symphonic performances, artists from the National Symphony Orchestra were playing live music in Alexandria. That’s remarkable.

What’s even more remarkable is that, after months of putting on safe, small outdoor concerts with near-unanimous support from neighbors, the city slapped Classical Movements on the wrist for not having a permit.

We understand city employees are just doing their jobs. The city received a noise complaint and city staff responded as they would in any case like this. But at a time when the city has bent over backwards to provide creative solutions for restaurants along King Street – and rightfully so – it stings to see the same approach not taken with one of the only current providers of live music in the city.

There are so few opportunities for residents to safely enjoy a few hours away from the constant stress and existential dread of the pandemic – and away from home. We question the city’s decision to throw up roadblocks for a local company that is providing joyful experiences for residents with hardly any financial benefit for itself.

We applaud the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of Classical Movements’ special use permit last week and hope City Council follows suit on Saturday. What council is considering on Saturday is far more than just the approval of a permit that will allow Classical Movements to hold 40-person concerts. The pandemic has reduced our lives to routine and monotony. We’ve all felt at some point over the last year like we’ve been on autopilot.

While it’s not a cure-all, live music is an antidote to the automaton lifestyle we’ve been living since March 2020. In the Feb. 25 Alexandria Times’ story “Single complaint, lengthy permitting process jettison classical concert series,” residents and musicians alike spoke to the power of these concerts in particular and live music more generally.

It can be easy to forget the value these things held in our pre-pandemic lives, especially when compared to the everyday needs of looking after family, health and home. But the joy of an experience like that, no matter how fleeting it is, should not be a casualty of the pandemic.

Unlike Mitchell’s lyrics, we know what we have. Let’s not wait until it’s gone to act.