We are living through an unprecedented pandemic and New York's Irish arts community – alongside its Irish community centers – are responding as best they can to the growing threat.
If ever there was a time to hear from our Irish community leaders it's now. Sandra Feeney-Charles, Executive Director of the Aisling Center in Yonkers is an example of one leader who's already streets ahead of the curve.
“I haven't had any queries from seniors about coronavirus testing or where to be tested yet,” she tells IrishCentral.com. “But I do know that the procedure is simple, however. You need a referral from your primary care physician."
"Then you are directed to a testing center on City Island (the local one for the Irish community of Yonkers). It's a very well managed center and it has been set up for this. People from my own community would be directed to go there.”
The Aisling Center is currently closed to the public, but it is still fully staffed she says. “Right now we have suspended all nonessential services. So what does that mean? It means we're trying really hard to minimize any unnecessary contact with the public and still provide any services that are needed.”
The center's social worker will continue to counsel her clients by phone and is in regular contact with them, Feeney-Charles adds. “The other segment of our community center population that we would consider in need of services would be our seniors."
"So while they're not coming into the center for their own safety, we are continuing to call them twice weekly, first of all just to check in because social isolation is definitely an issue. The main point we want to make is that we're here, we want to see how they're doing and have a good chat with them too.”
That's also the message from the New York Irish Center in Queens. As with the Aisling Center, it also caters to a significant number of Irish seniors and their welfare is paramount.
“We are looking at a very vulnerable population that frequent our center and we do not want to increase the risk for them,” explains Paul Finnegan, executive director of the NYIC.
“So we are closing our senior program indefinitely now and we hope we can resume them as soon as possible because they're very important to the seniors. Being with friends is very important and it had a significant impact on reducing the threat of isolation."
"We know we are temporarily taking away their venue to come together but it also takes away some of the risks of them getting Covid-19, which could be lethal for any senior. Buts it puts another risk in their hands, which is drifting farther into isolation.”
The New York Irish Center, although closing, will stay in close touch with seniors via phone to make sure that they stay connected to the community. “Hopefully within a matter of weeks we can resume business as normal,” Finnegan says.
“We also have a lot of associations and civic-minded groups that use our space. Up to now, we've been letting them make decisions as to whether they want to postpone their events or not, but increasingly these groups are canceling or postponing their meetings in the building.”
If you're not feeling well the New York Irish Center recommends you self-isolate as much as possible and stay at home unless your condition worsens. “I think this entire pandemic is showing what a tremendous imbalance there is in terms of access to health care services for people in this country,” Finnegan continues.
“They're my personal views. I think this will cause people to ask a lot of questions that they were not asking previously because they weren't directly affected and now they will be. That is the opportunity hidden in the challenge. Maybe this is the thing that will finally wake us up.”
Meanwhile, our Irish theaters in the city have all closed. The Irish Rep announced their closing on the web this weekend: “At Irish Rep, the health and safety of our audience, artists, and staff is our top priority. Therefore, in an effort to protect our community and help contain the spread of COVID-19, we have canceled all performances from March 13 - April 14, 2020.”
That's over a month, which in the theatre business is an eternity and represents a major hit to the purse strings as well as their production schedule. The highly anticipated production of Eugene O'Neill's "A Touch of the Poet" for example has been postponed by three weeks and will now run from April 15 to June 7.
In Shakespearean times plays were often halted by the outbreak of a plague, but it's not a scenario that most of us thought we would ever witness in our lifetimes and in a statement the Rep said as much.
“As this virus forces us all to spend time apart, we are especially grateful to have had so many opportunities to come together with all of you who come through our doors show-after-show. Thank you. We can’t wait to do it again.”
That sentiment was shared at the Irish Arts Center, which has canceled its upcoming performance schedule through March.
“At this time, in the interest of protecting our artists, audiences, teachers, students, colleagues, and the vulnerable among us, and to assist our public health services in their effort to slow the growth of the virus, we will be suspending all Irish Arts Center programming and classes through the end of March,” the center said in a statement.
“We are hearty New Yorkers, and we will pull together and power through as we always do!”
Both Irish performance spaces are exploring online productions and readings in the interim, with the Rep introducing The Show Must Go Online. Meanwhile, the wider Irish community is bracing itself for uncharted waters.
“I expect this to get worse before it gets better,” Aisling Center Executive Director Feeney-Charles adds. “I think the most important thing do now is to listen to the medical guidelines and follow them. Keep your distance from everybody, wash your hands, pass that message on to the kids.”
To save your sanity and stop fretting don't think about six months down the road, she says. “Think about today and tomorrow and what you can do to be safe and keep your family and friends a community safe. And if we all do that, we will get through this and please God come September or October, when we can look back and then participate in the events and festivities that are being rescheduled.”
“We have a lot of stuff to look forward to in other words, there's a lot of fun to have that we're missing out on right now. So one day at a time, and when we get to it, we can have fun again.”
Now there's the kind of Irish leadership that we need in a crisis.