L. Kent Wolgamott: Arts, entertainment and sports trapped between safety and normal

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I was in one of the upstairs galleries at the Sheldon Museum of Art on Tuesday when I got the alert on my phone that the Big Ten had canceled fall sports — a decision that illustrated the dichotomy between safety and returning to “normal” that will, unfortunately, continue to hold arts and entertainment in limbo for months.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln museum reopened Tuesday after being shuttered since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.

As I looked at “Person of Interest,” the stimulating exhibition that fills the entire second floor, I recalled my late January conversation with Sheldon executive director Wally Mason and curator Melissa Yuen, putting some thoughts about the show I’d intended to write about five months ago.

But I was also revisiting some old friends, like Diane Arbus’ disturbing 1962 photograph “Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C.,” Philip Guston’s 1976 painting of shoes tumbling downward “Pit II” and, oddly, Mark Rothko’s 1956 abstract masterwork “Yellow Band.”

That continued downstairs in “Sheldon Treasures” where Alexander Calder’s 1952 mobile “Sumac II” hangs across the gallery from Hans Hofman’s 1956 abstraction “The City,” one of my favorite works in the Sheldon collection.

Even masked up, with hand sanitizers set up around the building, going back into the galleries felt normal.

In sharp contrast, the Big Ten’s decision ripped away any semblance of normal for Nebraska athletics and Husker football — the most popular and lucrative form of entertainment in the state.

Make no mistake, sports are entertainment — unless you’re one of the athletes and coaches directly involved. To them, it’s their lives and livelihood.

Unlike, say, a movie or play, the outcomes of sporting contests aren’t determined beforehand. In addition, the passion sports stir in its fans isn’t much different from that of music fans.

And all of those without instruments or helmets and shoulder pads are spectators. They put up their cash or sit through the commercials at home to be entertained.

So Lincoln’s largest venues — Memorial Stadium, Pinnacle Bank Arena and the Devaney Sports Center — will sit empty through the rest of the year, the shutdown wreaking havoc on the Athletics Department’s bottom line, not to mention the local economy.

While the Huskers are sidelined, two other UNL institutions will be leading the way in reintroducing performing arts and movies to Lincoln.

Next week, the Ross Media Arts Center will start showing films, reopening with, appropriately enough, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a documentary about the civil rights movement icon and long-serving Congressman who died last month.

In September, the Lied Center for Performing Arts will begin its 2020-21 season with Step Afrika!, an African-American step dancing company; “Wisteria,” a collaborative narrative and musical developed by UNL English Professor Kwame Dawes; and the political comedy troupe The Capitol Steps.

Capacity at the Ross and the Lied will be reduced with at least 6 feet of distance in seating and masks required for all in the building, save the performers. So it won’t quite be “normal,” but it will be close enough.

Things get more complicated for shows in theaters and clubs. There are a few shows set for the Rococo Theatre, Bourbon Theatre and The Royal Grove in September and October. My guess is they’ll all likely happen.

But, because of varying restrictions on venues across the country and reduced capacity everywhere, touring won’t get back to “normal” before next spring at the earliest.

If, however the dire predictions of independent music venues going under for good because of the shutdown, “normal” as we knew it before March may never return.

It’s time to adjust to the new normal and, if you want to get out from in front of a TV screen or computer, take advantage of the live entertainment being safely offered or go look at some art in person.

I can tell you from seeing The Beach Boys at Pinewood Bowl and visiting Sheldon, it feels good.

It almost makes you forget the pandemic.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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