Local musician Andy Lott realized a few months ago that it was looking more and more as if Christmas wasn't going to be the same this year for local artists or the community.
Some performances were going virtual because of the pandemic. Some were outright canceled. There were going to be fewer opportunities for gig workers such as musicians, and similarly few opportunities for the community to enjoy the arts at the holidays.
So in August, Lott and his wife began thinking of ways to make that connection between musicians and the community. As they talked to members of the local arts community, the project snowballed to become the Virtual Holiday Spectacular, which will be streamed free Sunday, then be available to replay for a month on Facebook. No Facebook account is needed to watch the stream.
The production is a fundraiser for area arts and community organizations. Performances during the variety show include selections from Heartland Sings, Fort Wayne Children's Choir, Indianapolis Ballet and musicians from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Local singer and former “The Voice” runner-up Addison Agen headlines the show, hosted by WANE-TV news anchor Terra Brantley.
The majority of the performances were recorded at the Embassy last week. Some numbers were recorded earlier in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis artists got involved because the show needed additional musicians and a larger recording space than it had access to in Fort Wayne, Lott says.
It was a natural fit because the arts are one big community everywhere facing the same issues during the pandemic, he says. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic musicians have been furloughed, as were those of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Lott says the pandemic has been devastating to artists, financially and emotionally.
He is among local artists who have benefited from the Artist Relief Fund organized by Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne and Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne. All money raised from the holiday show goes to support that fund, Community Harvest Food Bank, and local artists and arts organizations. A link to donate is available at www.fwspectacular.com.
The show is presented by Artists Untied, an organization Lott founded so there would be a vehicle to produce the show. The group is applying for nonprofit status and Lott has ideas for future projects for the group.
Though it is a fundraiser, Lott wanted to offer the stream for free because not everyone in the community can afford to pay. The show is a way for artists and arts organizations to connect with the community and remind them that the performing arts are still here.
This project shows off not only talent from the region but also one of the strengths of the local arts community. Arts organizations in other cities don't always collaborate as easily as they do in Fort Wayne, says Mandie Kolkman, artistic director for Fort Wayne Dance Collective. She is also part of the show's artistic staff.
Many local groups have come together during the pandemic, such as for the virtual Taste of the Arts festival in the fall, which featured more than 30 professional video performances from artists and arts groups.
Dance Collective is among groups participating in the holiday show, offering the numbers that would have been seen on the Embassy stage during Festival of Trees if that event's stage performances had not been canceled.
There is a “jazzy number” similar to something the Radio City Rockettes would do and a tap dance performance, Kolkman says.
Though fundraisers always have the element of giving back, Virtual Holiday Spectacular is taking that a step further, she says. It isn't just about raising money for the artists.
Because of the pandemic, this holiday season is going to look a lot different, which could be sad and disappointing for many people, Kolkman says.
“The arts have the ability to evoke emotion that other things don't, and to utilize our artistic talents to bring in some holiday cheer is probably the most important thing that we could be doing right now,” she says.