Names: Miguel Acuña, Farah Haidari, Liset Puentes, Alex Schlientz
Organization: Milagro Theatre Portland
Annual Operating Budget: $750,000
Learn more at milagro.org
Interview originally published on June 1, 2020.
How are the arts playing a role during this critical time?
The arts are fundamental to society during times of crisis. They offer an escape from reality, providing opportunities for exploration and creativity. I loved Olga’s response in her interview, where she said “art wants us to think, art wants us to engage, art doesn’t want us to eat it and be done with it” (MA)
The arts are incredibly important to society as a whole to keep people connected and engaged with each other. The arts allow for all kinds of statements and discourse, spark discussions, and provide entertainment. Right now, though many arts organizations are closed and performances are canceled, so many companies are trying their best to keep in contact with their audiences and present online material. (AS)
In an unprecedented reality where many staples of daily life have halted, the arts still manage to provide familiar feelings of relief and comfort. Though we can’t get many of our needs met during COVID-19, we can at least have experiences of artistic content that satisfy a deep human need for creativity and catharsis. For many, consuming art is a reliable way to help stay sane right now. (FH)
What has been the most notable / most unpredictable / most challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your organization? Biggest financial challenge?
Most challenging impact of the pandemic has been the sheer uncertainty of the situation. There was no way to even prepare for it, so to have to make difficult decisions on the fly (shutting down Corrido, for example) has been tough, not to mention finding ourselves in a situation where we still have yet to receive any clear indications of the duration of these measures. (MA)
I agree with Miguel, the most difficult part of this for Milagro is the uncertainty. When can we next produce a show? We are working hard to determine when we can move forward with what we have planned ahead, but without direction on when that may be, it’s a tricky situation. (AS)
Financially, Milagro operates on a modest budget with little cash reserves, with no knowledge of when a production will be possible it is difficult to invest in production costs with the risk of losing income. This has challenged the organization to think of new programming outside the theatre realm that may replace full productions if necessary. Milagro is also tasked with raising $100,000 to offset the losses of the current season and remain financially stable. (LP)
From the moment the governor declared a ban on groups, we had to abandon a production, transition our entire office to remote work, and come up with all new programming for the rest of the season in a matter of weeks. It’s challenging to produce our first digital series, and it was made more difficult by the time crunch. We didn’t have time to do anything but forge ahead with new programming. The uncertainty of when this will end makes it hard to plan in advance at all, so we’re all working with shorter timelines and contingency plans. (FH)
To date, what steps have you taken to mitigate that impact?
Closing down the final two productions of the season, switching to working from home, switching gears producing online content, seeking funding… (MA)
We cancelled our last two shows of the season and have begun working from home. We are focusing on producing online content to share with our community as we simultaneously plan for our next season and talk about what it might look like. (AS)
In lieu of knowing what recovery will look like, we’re trying to prepare for the upcoming season by making multiple contingency plans for how to present our programming. (FH)
What kind of innovation in management has developed for your organization, and what challenges have you encountered when implementing new innovative ideas?
In regards to Nueva Frontera, just figuring out the messaging and focusing on what we wanted to produce in terms of online visibility. There’s obviously limitations in a technical capacity, whether it’s on the artist’s end (having to resort to using whatever cameras they have on hand) or ours (my poor computer can only handle so much, not to mention my limited knowledge of editing!) (MA)
We’ve begun to put more focus on our online presence with Nueva Frontera as Miguel said, which is a challenge in itself to have such a sudden shift in the type of content we are producing. We’ve also been working on other ways to keep in contact with our community of artists, such as an email newsletter I’ve been working on. One big challenge is maintaining that communication with our community without a physical presence. As a theatre, people know us for what we present to them on the stage. Without that, we are looking at how Milagro can expand its footprint to include more types of community engagement as an arts organization, not just as a theatre company. (AS)
Transitioning to remote work and focusing our production efforts in the digital realm has stretched us to work more flexibly with one another. We’re learning how to communicate differently. As Miguel mentioned, we’re also more aware of our technical limitations. Suddenly having to rely on virtual content packaging and remote technology has highlighted areas in which we could benefit from experienced support; yet, with the financial impact of canceling shows, we’re not in a position to hire new employees or create new roles. We’re having to make due with the resources we had before the shutdown–resources that were built around live events–so the shift is challenging. (FH)
What are the short-term and potential long-term effects of this shut down for your organization and the arts in general?
Cancellations of the shows and also the possible adjustment or cancellations of our fall programs as we discussed in the meeting today; our ability to establish ourselves physically in the neighborhood (since we can no longer host events in the Zócalo)…(MA)
The cancellations of our last two shows are a major short term effect, as it lost us revenue from those performances and forced us to furlough some of our non-administrative staff. Long term effects could include the cancellation of even more shows to come, depending on when things can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy. It’s going to be a while before people are totally comfortable sitting in an enclosed theatre with dozens of other audience members again. (AS)
This shut down could, in theory, be the end of any organization. We have no way of knowing the impact yet, and that makes it hard to prepare for future months. In the short term, we’re struggling to plan ahead with any foresight or clarity. One likely long-term effect will be a sharper sense of technological literacy for arts organizations. Because of the shut down, our team is learning how to work remotely and how to conduct virtual programming outside of the walls of our theatre. The forced circumstances of social distancing and resultant race to get arts programming online could result in a mass expansion of virtual arts experiences. Arts organizations worldwide are rapidly adjusting to the reality of remote entertainment–we can only imagine the collective effects of this forced growth and what the landscape of live arts will look like by the end of the shut down. Through limitation comes innovation. (FH)
What is a positive collaboration or initiative born as a result of this situation within your organization or that you’ve seen from your peers and colleagues in the arts industry?
Nueva Frontera was born out of crisis, which helps us explore our potential as an arts space despite physical limitations. We could also talk about our efforts to include other Latinx art organizations in our newsletter as a positive collaboration. (MA)
The Nueva Frontera program has really helped us explore what else we can do for our community members to provide them with the art, support, and entertainment they have come to know from us. It’s given us a great opportunity to highlight Milagro’s family of artists and all of the work they’ve done with us over the past years. (AS)
This unprecedented reality has encouraged us to approach our community and audience members with increased transparency. The collective experience of COVID-19 has reminded us at Milagro of what matters most. We have had to grapple with questions of our company’s identity (if Milagro isn’t a space to visit, then what is it?). We realized that, when the possibility of facilitating group gatherings is removed, what remains is Milagro’s rich network of humans who love participating in our signature arts and culture experiences. (FH)
What is the biggest lesson learned as a leader during this crisis?
Probably how to keep engaged with our community without the stage and our space to bring us together. Working on our online presence is definitely keeping us on our toes on how to stay strong together with our community in such a difficult time. (AS)
This sounds like a Jefe question! But something that I appreciate that José [González, Milagro Theatre Portland Executive Artistic Director] has done as a leader during this crisis is his indomitable spirit; it has never been a question of if Milagro will continue on, but how it will continue on. (MA)
Understanding that the future is hard to predict, how might the lasting impacts of COVID-19 change your upcoming season? Should the tone of pieces or performances change?
At this point, with uncertainty regarding the full timeframe of what this situation may look like, it’s difficult to really look ahead at our next season. We’re working on some contingency plans in regards to any possibility of not being able to hold performances for the first few months. We have already chosen our shows and our theme, so I’m pretty certain we will keep our eyes on that theme of Mujeres Bravas; everyone can use stories of courage and strength to keep them uplifted in times like this. (AS)
I think that the theme of Mujeres Bravas is just as relevant now as it was before the pandemic; it is the stories of brave women that will lead us through these difficult times. While the productions we’ve chosen handle adversity, there could be some room to explore a more hopeful and uplifting tone with the Dia de los Muertos celebration. (FH)
Regarding the creative process, what has been a source of inspiration for you/your organization at this time or how has your creative process changed and evolved? What outlets or channels have you sought out to continue to express your creativity, personally and/or professionally?
As we’ve mentioned above, our Nueva Frontera program has done a lot to keep us on our toes creatively, especially for Miguel and Farah. I would say that I’ve been inspired by those artists that have shared their work with us, for their dedication and perseverance to continue their work and art in this difficult time. I look forward to continuing the artists’ newsletter to keep that community engaged and to assure them that we aren’t going anywhere, as long as we can help it. (AS)
Similar notes as Alex’s; we find ourselves tremendously lucky that we have such a deep well of creative artists to draw on for Nueva Frontera content. Obviously it’s been a shift from producing theatrical productions to curating these artist videos, but it gives an insight as to what can be possible moving forward into uncertain times. (LP)
What message do you have for the artists and fellow art leaders in our community today?Engage, communicate, and persist. We in the arts don’t let anything bring us down. We have a passion for this work and we work hard to keep our voices heard. Engage with the community around you and communicate with them. Let them know that you’re working hard to continue to bring them the work they love. And don’t give up. (AS)
Latinos in our community are being especially hit hard by the crisis not only in how many have become sick, but also in terms of income loss. We already face incredible disparities in income and education gaps, this will only deepen the divide. We tell stories of resilience to inspire our community to keep going, to know their history and know the courage of their ancestors. The inequities we face today will require new voices and the solidarity of all Oregonians to realize what an essential role Latinos play in our community. Milagro is the only arts space in Oregon where these stories are being told. We know in our coming seasons will serve to bring these stories to light and inspire the next generation of artists to be heard. (LP)
Art is the escape people need from the uncertain and often confusing times we find ourselves in. Everyone has a role to play in this crisis, and the artists need to keep up their creative drive in order to fully encapsulate the times we live in. (MA)
What question do you wish someone would ask?!
“How do we stay strong together?” Everyone is asking what are you doing, how are you facing this? We need to highlight that we are stronger together, and together is how we can all make it through this! (AS)
“How can we learn from this as a society and challenge the institutions that have proven to be inadequate in this crisis to better serve the people?” (MA)
When looking to the future, what brings you hope?
Honestly, the arts as a whole. Nobody wants to give up. Nobody will let this take them down. Whether individual artists, organizations, or communities, we will persevere. In all of history, art of all types has persisted and remained a vital part of culture. (AS)
The continued efforts of essential workers give me hope; despite the risks involved, our essential workers show up to do the work that needs to be done, and they don’t flinch in the face of uncertainty. It’s that kind of drive that gives me hope that we as a society will do the same. (FH)
About Milagro Theatre Portland staff:
Miguel Acuña Community Engagement Coordinator
Miguel Acuña grew up in Reno, Nevada where he attended the University of Nevada, Reno. He graduated with a BA in Political Science and Spanish. As Community Engagement Coordinator, Miguel hopes to build and maintain relationships through the Community Artes programs as well as enhance creative experiences not only with the local Latino community with the Greater Portland community at large.
Farah Haidari Marketing & Communications Associate
Farah Haidari grew up in Atlanta and earned her BA in Philosophy from Amherst College. She has spent her career in arts marketing, having worked as a copywriter for BAM in Brooklyn. Her professional passions include storytelling, brand cultivation, and audience engagement. In her creative life, she performs comedy and writes for the stage. Farah is thrilled to be on the Milagro team and looks forward to creating space for Latino cultural events in Portland.
Liset Puentes Development Manager
Liset Puentes is from Las Vegas, Nevada. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a BA in Journalism. Liset grew up in Los Angeles where she was exposed to the arts and theatre. Her love of storytelling compelled her to study journalism and be a part of the university’s first cohort of bilingual journalists with a program called Noticiero Móvil. After graduating she managed the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Nevada, Reno. There she organized the Sontag entrepreneurship competition and helped launch the Women’s Initiative to support women entrepreneurs including organizing the college’s first bilingual panel of female entrepreneurs. Liset enjoys community building, event planning, and supporting a diverse arts community.
Alex Schlientz Production Coordinator
Alex Schlientz is a recent implant in Portland and is excited to begin working with Milagro! He previously lived in San Diego and found himself in Oregon attending Western Oregon University. There, he earned his B.S. Degree in Theatre with an emphasis in Stage Management. While studying, he honed his skills in stage management as well as working in various other technical roles. After having stage-managed with a few theatres in Salem and Portland, he is now looking forward to what his future at Milagro holds!