By Leon Espinoza

The show must go on. Even against a showstopper like COVID.

The Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association, shaken and then stirred to action, survived the initial blow of the pandemic last March after stay-at-home orders forced the curtain to come down on a big musical production.

Rather than surrender to the new reality, CGOA, serving communities in rural Oregon, did a giant pivot, finding fresh ways to entertain audiences, educate, engage performers and nourish communities starved for positive distraction and fun viewing.

A CGOA Voci Choir member sings in her home recording studio, one of the stories featured in Ruralite’s Heart of Community series.

It is a story of resiliency and keeping the arts alive.

The Show Must Go On,” told by freelance writer and CGOA choir singer Lori Russell and published in our February issues, is the first installment of Ruralite magazine’s The Heart of Community, a yearlong series shining a light on rural arts.

The storytelling showcases how the arts breathe life into rural communities and can even be an economic driver. It tells a comeback story as the editorial team at Pioneer Utility Resources seeks to help preserve rural arts in these unprecedented times. Pioneer is inviting readers to be our eyes and ears for great stories to tell.

Lori, who had to make her own pivot as she learned to do virtual performances from her family room, says the past year has been challenging for many arts organizations and that she was excited to share the story of the Columbia Gorge Orchestra Association’s successful pivot.

“I hope it inspires performers in other rural communities — and the audiences who support them — to find their own creative ways to thrive,” she says.

2021 Focus: The Heart of Community

The Heart of Community series is receiving support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a private nonprofit serving nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest. This is the third year the Vancouver, Washington-based trust has partnered with Pioneer to tell the important stories of the rural Northwest and West.

The other series were The Changing Face of Rural Health Care and Heroes Among Us.

One new wrinkle in 2021, as we seek to offer more ways to experience our storytelling, is this: We are producing a “Heart of Community” podcast with each installment of the rural arts series. The first one debuts in a few weeks.

It will be fun to see how all of this unfolds.