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Arts and Entertainment

Pandemic Check-Up: A Look At Springfield Pottery And The Moxie Cinema

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(Logo courtesy The Moxie Cinema)
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For this “Ozarks Checkup”, we’ll talk with two local people in the arts about how they made it through the COVID-19 shutdown: Mike Stevens, manager of the local not-for-profit art-house movie theater The Moxie Cinema; and Nathan Falter, clay and pottery artist, educator, and proprietor of Springfield Pottery and Community Clay Center.                                                      

One of the points raised on this morning's Sense of Community report was that individual artists had an especially hard time during the COVID shutdown due to the loss of revenue.  Nathan Falter and his wife Jennifer, through canny money management and diversified streams of income from their art, probably managed better than many.

"My wife Jennifer and I, I guess you would consider us 'studio potters,'” said Nathan Falter. “We make sort of higher-end pottery and we generally market that thru wholesale to other galleries. We work with a catalog company. And then we do probably a dozen shows throughout the United States."

Locally, their business, Springfield Pottery, operates a small gallery, as well as the Community Clay Center, where during "normal" times they work with 60 or more pottery students each week, and they also partner with the Arts Council on the mobile clay-art outreach program, the Claymobile. A lot of that work, says Nathan Falter, evaporated during the peak of the pandemic. As of March 2020, he says, "we were pretty much 100% shut down. The catalog company, we were still able to do some sales thru that. But as far as classes, the gallery, any traveling for shows, that just disappeared.”

When the shutdown came in the spring of 2020, Nathan and Jennifer Falter pared down their expenses, both household and business, as much as possible. He took some construction work that summer, and throughout 2020 taught numerous art classes at MSU and OTC. While not having any real income generated from their business definitely "hurt," he says, they managed pretty well, considering.  

Last year the Falters found they needed to generate 35 or 40 percent of their regular, pre-COVID, income to break even and keep from losing money. (Nathan calls it a “hibernation” period.) And they were able to manage, through Nathan’s outside teaching jobs among other things.

In fact, one area of their income streams actually increased last year. “Our catalog sales were up this past calendar year,” said Falter, “I think primarily because (customers were) looking for gifts for people still, that sort of thing.” He noted that their wholesale business with other galleries “really dropped off, but it’s starting to pick back up.”

In addition, the Community Clay Center classes are back to about 40 to 50 percent capacity, and they hope to run full sessions by mid-August 2021. But with the local surge in the Delta COVID variant, does Nathan Falter worry about what effect that might may have?

“I’m almost expecting some problems as we head into the fall, with the new variants that are out there, you know, with our vaccination rate,” he said. “And we’re honestly preparing for it: just make the best sales that you can while we’re open; really make sure we’re watching our profit margins; and tucking away some extra money when we can. I think that’s the best thing we can do right now.” So… cautious optimism.

Mike Stevens is manager of Springfield’s two-screen art-house movie theater, The Moxie Cinema. More than a decade ago, the Moxie transitioned from for-profit to 501-c3 non-profit. Needless to say, they experienced some major jitters in March of 2020, according to Stevens. “We shut our doors March 15 (2020). And we kept them shut for another 159 days.  It was terrifying.  At first I was terrified for our community, and how we were going to survive it, because at the beginning it just seemed like nobody had any idea. We were wiping down groceries! But then (I) quickly thought about, ‘Wow, how is the Moxie going to pull through this?’”

Stevens’s first priority was keeping the Moxie name at the top of his patrons’ minds with weekly emails. They also shifted quickly to providing links on their website and Facebook pages to film distributors’ websites. As Mike Stevens described it, “film distributors—rather than, they send us movies, we would send them customers.”

By mid-August 2020 the Moxie had re-opened to the public—but at only 25 percent seating capacity… and let’s face it, the auditoriums at the Moxie are small to begin with: one seats 42 people, the other 72. Asked what kinds of losses they sustained, Mike Stevens chuckled and said “Significant!” But there was a heartwarming, encouraging trend. “We have really been blessed by tremendous community support. Even before we started asking, we had a lot of donations come in over the transom—completely unsolicited! And that was exciting to see. But yeah, as far as ticket sales, concession sales, we were down probably 68 percent or more. It kind of depends on how you do the math and what the starting point was.”

Stevens still marvels at the show of financial support from local film buffs during the worst of the shutdown. “Those first couple of donations just showed me that there’s tremendous support out there, and at a level I hadn’t expected. And it really heartened me. It’s wasn’t any smart move on my part, that’s for sure! It was people believing in what we do and supporting it.”

He said he doesn’t intend to continue offering movies online—partly because there wasn’t all that much traffic, and partly because, he said, ‘We’re excited to be back open and showing stuff on the big screen.” However, like Nathan Falter—and, undoubtedly, everyone else—Mike Stevens said he is worried there could be another shutdown doe to the Delta strain of COVID. “I really hope we don’t get another shutdown.” But, he added, there is what he called “a simple and easy way to solve that. In order to get back to normal, we all have to get that vaccine.”