Cultural team keeps arts alive

Lakewood Legends Logo.jpg

Lakewood cultural team creates normalcy with summer, fall events

Few areas of American life have been hit harder than the artistic community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, which spreads easily in enclosed indoor spaces such as concert halls, museums and movie theaters, has caused temporary and permanent closures across the industry. For those who love the arts, it has been yet another casualty of this once-in-a-generation public health crisis. 

Constantly changing public health orders and an evolving understanding of how the virus spread meant a closure of Lakewood’s cultural facilities for months. However, over the summer and continuing into the fall, staff have been working hard behind the scenes to put on some much-needed cultural events, including the Lakewood Legends concert series.

“Everybody in the department has come together in a way that I’ve never seen before. I genuinely couldn’t have put this on without each and every one of them stepping up and making it happen,” said Rebecca Gushen, the city’s community events coordinator. “Just to make these events safe requires an incredible amount of manpower and requires our staff to be very fluid and flexible, both working the events and having a critical eye when looking for how these can be improved and made as safe as possible.”

Concertgoers were required to wear masks and encouraged to dance while in their safely spaced squares outlined on the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Amphitheater lawn in Heritage Lakewood Belmar Park. The health and happiness of residents has been Gushen’s top priority, and she has been committed to providing a safe experience that promotes mental and physical wellness through music, dance and socially distanced togetherness.

The Lakewood Legends series in August and September brought back six of the area’s most-beloved acts that treated audience members to a rare live concert experience during the pandemic. 

Gushen said there was tangible, built-up excitement for live music on the part of both performers and residents.

“This was the easiest concert series I’ve had to book, because unfortunately a lot of these bands haven’t had gigs all summer long,” she said. 

All six shows were sold out. 

Rebecca Gushen.jpg “We had a lot of people come to us and say that this was the first and only thing that they’ll do all summer. We saw some people posting on social media at the shows saying, ‘We’re actually at a concert!’ And I swear I’ve heard more thank yous in the last four months than I heard in the four years previously.”

Now, as public health orders become more stable, Gushen and the Lakewood cultural team are continuing to push forward with events designed to entertain while minimizing the risk of COVID-19. The annual Cider Days celebrations was replaced with a stand-alone cider pressing event with reservations in early October, which drew more than 50 families.

With Halloween approaching, the team has put together a Flick or Treat event, which calls for separate waves of participants to reserve limited spaces for a trick-or-treat activity. All stations will be manned by a masked and gloved Lakewood representative who has passed a health and temperature check. The trick-or-treaters will receive individually wrapped, sealed and sanitized candy at all stations.

“We wanted to create a family-friendly and COVID-approved event for them all to come out to so those parents can have peace of mind that their kids are doing something safe for the holiday,” Gushen said.

The team hit the mark with the event because all the trick-or-treating spots were filled within the first four hours of the event’s posting.

The event also includes the outdoor screenings of Halloween classics “Hocus Pocus” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” after the sun goes down.

While this year may be unique in the way that it is forcing Lakewood staff to adjust, Gushen said one of the great things about her job even in normal times is making little changes to events to make them better.

“I love to get a little creative with events, making one year slightly different than the last,” she said. “We make sure that we’re constantly evolving our events and making sure that they are meeting the needs of the community.”