Jeffrey McDermott made an unusual request of the Carmel City Council at its July 6 meeting.
The president and CEO of the Center for the Performing Arts director asked the council to give the mayor authority to close it.
“This ordinance as proposed might seem counterintuitive, why we would be asking for this council to support the ability to shut us down,” McDermott said. “But in fact that is what we’re doing for very specific reasons.”
The ordinance, approved 8-0 on first reading by the council, states that the mayor has authority to shut down city-owned performance venues to protect public health. The mayor must notify the city council at least 24 hours before the closure is set to take place, and the council can override the decision or add conditions with a majority vote.
The center — like performing arts venues across the world — has been forced to cancel or postpone months of live shows and events to promote physical distancing and slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
McDermott said contracts with performers include force majeure clauses that allow parties to back out of contractual obligations when circumstances occur that are beyond their control, such as terrorism, floods or war.
Some force majeure clauses include pandemics, but all of them cover the shutting down of a venue by a governmental agency. That’s why McDermott asked the council to approve the ordinance outlining a process for the city to shut down performance venues when deemed necessary to protect public health and safety.
“Some artists around the country have been challenging force majeure clauses, because they are not specific enough,” McDermott said. “That is something we do not want to face.”
McDermott said the center hasn’t encountered the issue yet, and he wants to ensure that won’t be a problem in the future.
“We have been blessed,” he said. “While we’ve had to postpone or suspend dozens and dozens of programs, not only for ourselves but our resident companies, we’ve not had any problems to date with any artists who have come in trying to challenge that.”
The center’s venues have been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic but are scheduled to reopen later this month with physical distancing and other safety measures in place.