By Gina Malone
How does a vibrant arts scene in Western North Carolina make itself seen, heard and experienced in a time of business closures and shelter-at-home orders? Creative by nature, artists are finding ways.
“It’s a soul-searching time for artists,” says Leslie Rowland. “How do we engage potential clients in this new world? When we emerge into the new normal, will people still be supporting the fine arts?” For her part, though not able to open her Riverview Station studio, she is doubling down on her work’s aim: being a “quiet but persistent voice reminding people to love themselves and each other and to recognize the value of wild things and places.” Her paintings blend science and art, with a recent series referencing binary code messages. “Times of uncertainty, grief and desperation bring out people’s true essence,” she says. “We should all be letting our beautiful souls guide us.”
Without physical spaces to be visited, artists are taking full advantage of websites (with virtual tours and online shopping); social media, for livestreaming and easy updates; and video and audio platforms for organizing classes and workshops.
Early spring days are generally the busiest for Andrea Kulish, who teaches pysanky classes in her Pink Dog Creative studio. “Making the shift to online teaching feels like a good thing to do for the future as well as during the stay-at-home order,” she says. “I will now be able to offer online classes to people worldwide who can’t make it to my studio for whatever reason.” She is also offering online presentations for those who want a more in-depth demonstration of Ukrainian Easter egg painting.
Pam Granger Gale has also taken her Majik Studios demonstrations and classes for beginning and intermediate marbling online. She posts live marbling on Facebook Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and offers classes as well through her website. During this sheltering-in time in which we all find ourselves, she is offering a special deal, accessible through the website, for a fourth class free when three are purchased.
Consignments are another way artists are finding of getting around social distancing. “I’m always grateful for commissions,” says the River Arts District’s Stephen St. Claire, “but especially these days, I’m so utterly thankful for every single client I have that is following me and still ordering commissions. That is incredibly encouraging and ridiculously humbling.” St. Claire also offers online sales through his website.
Richard Johnson is spending his “COVID confinement” working on commissions as well and completing small pieces to add to his space at Foundation Studios when businesses are allowed to reopen. “I’m also managing to get outside and get in some physical labor building stone walls and doing a lot of landscaping and finishing touches on my recently built home studio in Black Mountain,” he adds.
With the River Arts District Artists’ (RADA’s) Second Saturday canceled for May, artists are finding creative ways to engage and to promote their work, including online classes at 310 ART; special online sales from artists Cindy Lou Chenard and David Skinner and from galleries including Sky + Ground Contemporary Art and The Village Potters Clay Center; online exhibitions by Olga Dorenko and North Carolina Glass Center; and an online charity auction at Philip DeAngelo Studio.
Exploring RADA’s website (RiverArtsDistrict.com) at this time, and any time, is a good way to find new artists whose work you admire. Links are provided to artists’ websites and email addresses for more information.
Downtown Asheville Arts comprises a wealth of galleries, theaters, shops, museums and cultural centers as well. Like other organizations, they are ready to share their art and crafts in new, exciting and easily accessible ways.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Center for Craft has been developing new ways to continue supporting those working in the field of craft and engaging with our audience,” says Alyssa Ruberto, Center for Craft’s communications coordinator. “We will be expanding our virtual engagement while our building is closed, including online storytelling about grant recipients and programs, online activities, making our exhibition material digitally accessible and expanding programming for co-work at Center for Craft.”
At Blue Spiral 1, social media is the new means for getting art—and artists—seen as widely as possible. “Our feeds will not only continue to promote the current exhibitions at the gallery (via virtual tours and studio visits with artists),” says assistant director and curator Candace Reilly, “but we will do online studio tours, interviews and demos with many gallery artists during the closure. We are also planning several online pop-up shows, including a COVID-19 exhibition.” An e-commerce platform on the website will allow online purchases of all art in Blue Spiral’s inventory.
With events and activities being added to websites all the time, most staff members, including those at the Asheville Art Museum, say that subscribing to e-newsletters and following on social media are the surest ways to stay abreast of what’s new. “The Asheville Art Museum is working hard to provide our members and the community with engaging content they can experience at home for some inspiration and calm during this unprecedented time,” says Lindsay Grossman, communications manager for the museum.
In Brevard, Ann DerGara, owner of Red Wolf Gallery, has made her living as an artist since 1978 and calls recent days “the scariest time I have ever experienced.” She is offering 20 percent off on all purchases of art seen on the website, and can ship or offer curbside pick-up.
Staff members at Polk County’s Tryon Arts & Crafts School are working to develop an online course and demonstration catalogue in partnership with artists from around the country and, regionally, with Western Carolina University. Finally, another way that homebound lovers of the arts can help out is by seeking out arts councils to learn how to donate within the community. Just as RADA does, many of these sites list information about their member artists and offer “Donate” buttons. Toe River Arts, serving Yancey and Mitchell counties, even offers a convenient online shop.
To learn more, visit Asheville Area Arts Council (AshevilleArts.com), Arts Council of Henderson County (ACofHC.org), Transylvania Community Arts Council (TCArts.org), Toe River Arts (ToeRiverArts.org), Haywood County Arts Council (HaywoodArts.org), Madison County Arts Council (MadisonCountyArts.com), Rutherford County Arts Council (RutherfordArts.org) and McDowell Arts Council Association (McDowellArts.org).