The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has stalled much of the arts and entertainment community since this time last year, is only one of the reasons that a partnership of Mount Gretna organizations is preparing a broad plan to address the safety of its visitors and residents.

Gretna Music and the Pennsylvania Chautauqua are developing the Gretna Arts Safety Plan (GASP), which will focus its energies on making Mount Gretna “a safer place for visitors and residents though disaster prevention and preparation as well as safety trainings,” according to a recent statement from the community.

The project is making use of a grant that was funded by the Andrew. W. Mellon Foundation and awarded by the Performing Arts Readiness project.

“Though we are addressing COVID and working on setting up uniform COVID guidelines, it is only one portion of GASP’s goals,” grant coordinator Mika E. Cook told LebTown.

GASP received a one-time grant of $15,700, Cook said. “The funds are mostly to be used for developing a plan, trainings and communication efforts.”

The grant will help various organizations involved in arts and events in Mount Gretna, as well as Mount Gretna Borough, Mount Gretna Fire Department, Lebanon Department of Emergency Services and Western Lebanon County Regional Emergency Management Agency, to develop a comprehensive plan. Others organizations involved in the process include Gretna Theatre, Mount Gretna School of Art, Mount Gretna Bible Festival, the Campmeeting Association, Mount Gretna Area Historical Society and Mount Gretna Outdoor Art Show, according to the release.

The effort includes devising evacuation plans, communication alerts, weather disaster plans, first aid, fire extinguisher training, COVID-19 safety compliance and other worst-case scenarios, the statement explains.

Cook said COVID was only an indirect motivation for the program.

“A Gretna Music board member was on a Zoom call discussing choral groups during the pandemic,” she explained, “and the speaker mentioned the foundation and grant set up to assist in safety and emergency preparedness planning. Gretna Music took the lead with the Pennsylvania Chautauqua to bring the grant to the attention to the other Mount Gretna arts groups and all thought it would be a great way to work together to create a safety and emergency preparedness plan.”

Once they started looking more closely at safety protocols, she said, they discovered that the art show was the only arts group with an established program in place, while Campmeeting was working on an emergency evacuation plan and a communication network of text numbers and email addresses.

“Joining forces is allowing us to learn from each other, share efforts and have a greater impact and become more effective in the future,” Cook said. “This effort is important to make residents and visitors know that those setting up performances, events and programs in Mount Gretna are thinking and implementing ways to keep everyone safe.”

John Brieve, the coordinator for Western Lebanon County Regional Emergency Management Agency, is responsible each year for the safety and emergency plan for the art show, Cook noted, “and has been a helpful resource for GASP.”

COVID precautions are a top priority

COVID, of course, is a primary concern this year.

“Our busy summer season is fast approaching, and we are trying to find ways to go ahead with our events while keeping everyone safe from the spread of COVID,” Cook said. “That is the most important short-term safety concern. But long-term planning about road safety, inclement weather, first aid, fire prevention, evacuation plans (and) building safety are also part of the comprehensive plan we are working on.”

The Performing Arts Readiness grant allocated $1,250 specifically to address COVID concerns, she said. “We are looking into sanitation tools, COVID signage and developing uniform guidelines for all arts organizations on best practices for dealing with COVID to maintain safety for audience members, staff, volunteers and artists.”

As the pandemic dragged on, some organizations were able to present programs in an altered form that took safety restrictions into account.

Read More: Gretna Music to determine fate of remaining summer concerts, continue publishing shows online

“Gretna Music was able to safely present four outdoor performances in August and September 2020 at Clarence Shock Memorial Park at Governor Dick in Mount Gretna, as well as three performances in October 2020 in the Mount Gretna Playhouse,” she said. “All CDC and state guidelines were in place which included temperature checks for all, social distancing and mandatory mask wearing. All but two people that attended and filled out post-performance surveys said they felt safe and appreciated all the precautions that were set up and enforced.”

“Mount Gretna School of Art also set up and enforced pandemic guidelines last summer and with some modifications were able to operate safely.”

Organizers are sharing their experiences with other members of GASP for implementation this year, she said.

“GASP will allow the Gretna Arts organizations to be more prepared for when an emergency situation arises and create safer buildings and grounds,” Cook said. “This will make patrons be and feel safer, which will make their Gretna experience more enjoyable. This will also make volunteers and staff more knowledgeable and prepared.”

Art Show will proceed with new restrictions

According to a message posted on the Pennsylvania Chautauqua website, organizers of the popular Outdoor Art Show are “cautiously optimistic” they will be able to proceed with an event this year.

The annual event, which in 2019 featured 260 artist booths, was cancelled last year due to COVID concerns.

Art show director Kerry Royer said in a statement that the committee remains committed to following guidelines established by the state Department of Health “regarding gathering limits, social distancing and mask requirements.”

The more restrictive capacity limits now in place are expected to be relaxed by late spring, as more people receive the COVID vaccine, Royer said.

“It is likely there will still be restrictions on the number of people permitted so we are continuing to plan as we monitor those guidelines,” Royer said. “As a result of these restrictions, every person will have to be counted,” including patrons, artists, volunteers, Jigger Shop and Porch & Pantry employees, cleaning crews, and others on site for the event.

The committee will select vendors from the pool of juried artists featured in past years, Royer said, and the number of booths will be reduced to allow for social distancing. Artists will not be set up along Route 117, and the Children’s Art Show will be cancelled for another year, Royer added.

“Due to the high volume of traffic in 2019, we plan to use satellite parking at Philhaven and bus patrons to the gate, adhering to social distancing requirements,” Royer said.
“We are guardedly hopeful that health guidelines will allow for more robust attendance. The committee will meet with Lebanon County Emergency Management, Cornwall and South Londonderry police departments and the executive secretary of the state Health Department “to discuss protocols to make further decisions.”

AED approved for visitor’s center

An immediate payoff of the program was the acquisition of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) for use in the public venues in the Gretna area.

The AED was granted by the Peyton Walker Foundation in Camp Hill, and it will be installed in the Mount Gretna Visitor’s Center. The Peyton Walker Foundation donates AEDs to nonprofit organizations in Central Pennsylvania every year. To date, the foundation has donated more than 150 AEDs.

Cook said the need for a public-accessible AED “was listed as a concern” during GASP meetings and risk analysis walk-throughs of the public buildings and grounds.
The fire company has one of the life-saving devices, Cook said, “but it was encouraged to seek out one for public access.”

“The Peyton Walker Foundation representative identified the Mount Gretna Visitor Information Center as the ideal location as it is within seconds of the public parking lot and public restrooms,” she said. “And within seconds of the Mount Gretna Playhouse, the Hall of Philosophy, the Jigger Shop, playground and tennis court area.”

By September, Cook said, GASP expects to have a safety and emergency preparedness manual that participating arts and events organizations can use as a reference.
“Along with proper protocol on who to call and when in the county, there will be instructions on what to do for a variety of safety situations,” she said.

Anyone who would like to get involved with the planning process or implementation phases of the GASP initiative can attend the group’s monthly Zoom meetings for more information. Anyone interested should contact Cook at 717-361-1508 or to be put on the GASP email list.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.