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Like a good number of other arts organizations, Next Stage, based in Putney, has moved its programming into the digital realm.

Special Focus

Creating, making, and sharing during a pandemic

Area artists, organizations, and venues offer their perspectives on how COVID-19 has affected their artistic vision and their bottom lines

Creating and sharing art in the time of a pandemic has proven to be a mixed bag. For some, this time of shutdown and slow awakening from economic slumber provides a unique opportunity to think about audience and the kind of work one wishes to share with the world. For others, it provides a serious moment of pause: How do we create and stay safe in the time of COVID-19? We asked a variety of people in all aspects of the arts — from creators to operators of venues — about the pandemic and how it is affecting their lives.

Samirah Evans

Samirah Evans has been giving one-on-one voice instruction for 13 years with students ranging from 8 to 60 years of age and older.

* * *

I’m in the business of music as a performing artist and a teacher. I teach at both Williams College and my at-home studio.

At Williams, COVID-19 abruptly put a halt on my ability to prepare my students for their recital. It was sad to part without seeing one another after years of cultivating meaningful relationships, and it was equally sad that after many semesters of my supporting the development of their skills, my students were not able to showcase their final presentation.

The fortune that came out of COVID-19 is that I learned to teach online, enabling me to maintain a few of my home studio students as a result.

However, my home studio attendance lightened up, which impacted me financially. My spring and summer concerts were cancelled, so that has also had a devastating financial impact, as my concerts make up the majority of my income once school is out. Even though businesses are opening up, the concert halls and performance spaces aren’t.

In the meantime, I’m writing songs to prepare myself for when I can hit the stage again and making use of the downtime to develop other projects that I’ve always wanted to pursue that will hopefully enable me to obtain some financial stability.

Kay Curtis

Kay Curtis is coordinator of the Harmony Collective, 49 Elliot St., Brattleboro.

* * *

The Harmony Collective artists’ gallery was open for only six months before the pandemic came and we were forced to close. We reopened on June 1 and lost only one member of our 31-member group. If we could survive that, it sounds to me like we could survive anything.

I am the one who had the idea to open the gallery in the first place and insisted on reopening so quickly. It’s very important that we be a model for artists to just show their work today. And I didn’t see that we had the freedom to stay closed for a very long time.

So members with health issues or concerns were not asked to come in and work to death. I am covering for them until such a time as they feel safe.

People are coming through the door, and they are wearing masks. We have some in case they didn’t bring their own, but we haven’t had to use them, because customers are being very respectful.

People are coming in to be comforted by art. I’ve never had two customers come in at the same time. Like one person or a couple will come through; they’ll spend 10 minutes in the gallery. They’ll talk for a while and then they’ll leave happier — and I just love it.

A lot of people coming through are from out of town. But we have Plexiglas screens, we have masks, and we have a large space, where everything is very far apart. So we’re not worried, and we’re doing well.

Zak Grace

Zak Grace creates beautiful, practical glass sculptures and vessels from his studio in Brattleboro.

* * *

My business came to a full slowdown and then a stop in the last few months.

All the shows that I was planning for were canceled or postponed. Fortunately glass doesn’t go bad. I have my work, but all of the venues are closed for the time being. That also affects sales.

As an artist, I have relied on making a personal connection with my audience, and I continue to try to do that. Moving forward, that’s the question: how to continue to find that personal connection with the audience given the distancing that is required?

I continue to figure out how to try and survive. Fortunately, I have some other ways to make money as we move forward to try to figure out the next new world of being an artist and a producer of artful things.

I don’t have a lot of faith in online sales, so that is not a major part of my future game plan.

I am figuring out how I can open my own studio showroom store in the summer, when the doors can be wide open for one customer or one group at a time. I’ll have an outdoor waiting area.

More now than ever, as artists, we must work harder to get our work to our audience. That always has made me think about who that audience is and why I’m making that work, questions that are even more relevant, important, and personal in this next era.

Our situation shows both how much we need the artists and how important artists are to society and the world. It is a gift and a privilege to be a working artist, and I want to make that relevant to the world today.

These are not new questions, but they have a different light on them now. It is about continuing to work really hard. I’m not working to impress people. I’m working from my inspiration. Not everybody wants to see all sorts of art, but art needs to continue to have places to be able to be made.

I did not apply for any of the art organization group relief funding because I did not need financial support as much as I was figuring others did. I was supported through the new unemployment benefits for those who are self-employed, which made the stressful pandemic time much easier to deal with. I feel like the state supports artists and is willing to help us.

Overall, I’ve felt very supported in Vermont as an artist. I grew up here and, during this time, I’ve been reminded that there is a support structure for artists here.

Cai Xi

Cai Xi is a painter, tai chi master, art and language instructor, and caterer of Asian cuisine.

* * *

I am paying more attention to what is close to me, spending more time observing plants and everyday things near at hand.

Diane Echlin

Diane Echlin makes wheel-thrown functional stoneware and porcelain pottery, available in local galleries and fine craft shows as well as on her Etsy Shop. She also teaches from her home studio. She serves on the board of the Vermont Crafts Council, is a member of Rock River Artists, and is chair of the board of the Putney Farmers’ Market.

* * *

It looks a little terrifying, frankly.

The Vermont Crafts Council was forced to cancel our spring Open Studio Weekend, and our virtual tour did not generate the kind of business that a live studio tour usually does. Rock River Artists cancelled our summer tour, which normally happens in July.

The Putney Farmers’ Market has not yet opened for in-person sales. We were able to pull together a pre-order/contactless pick-up system that is working quite smoothly, but in years past the bulk of our guests have been tourists.

The bulk of my sales as a potter come from selling at craft shows mainly in Vermont, and my entire season has been cancelled. I have no income from my art at the moment except some online sales, which are not enough.

So things look like they will remain challenging for some time.

Jon Mack

For six years, Jon Mack has managed the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery, 139 Main St., Brattleboro.

* * *

The Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery faces an existential threat due to the pandemic. Though expenses are low (we work as volunteers, and the Hooker-Dunham Building graciously donates use of the space), we continue to incur monthly and yearly costs that are now out-of-pocket. This, obviously, is not sustainable.

The theater and gallery spaces are intimate, and that makes each a wonderful space for innovation and exploration of the creative arts. We thrive on the close personal connection between artist and audience.

I’ve managed the Hooker-Dunham for the past six years because I love to see creativity emerge and because it gives me opportunities to express my own creative energies through acting, writing, directing, and producing events. My most recent effort — “Bloomsday in Brattleboro: A Celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses” — was transformed from a staged reading into a complex online production.

Though challenging, it was a thrilling experience. But it’s not the same as having the live-audience response that lies at the core of the creative process.

As far as reopening is concerned, the problem is not the rules imposed by state or town, but the question: When can we, in good conscience, encourage people to congregate closely? As long as there is neither a vaccine nor cure, it is difficult to see how we can reopen.

There will be an “after-COVID-19.” Meanwhile we will continue to find innovative ways of keeping art flowing by finding safe and effective ways of using the space and our online presence to connect artists and audiences.

William Forchion

William Forchion is a performer, poet, filmmaker, and circus arts cultural exchange ambassador. His summer job is director of Circus Smirkus summer camp in Greensboro.

* * *

COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on my art. In April, May, and June, because of the cancelation of performance work, about $6,000 worth of income did not come in.

In normal times, I am a physical performing artist, but I discovered connections with other artists via the Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte, seeking to help African American artists and artists of color find connection.

I began painting hearts of hope on repurposed slate and placed them on the roadside for anyone to have. Doing so did not generate income, but it did lift my spirits and help me feel connection with a community.

Reopening Circus Smirkus means that we will be able to do what we do — under extremely modified guidelines. We spent many months preparing scenarios and offering proposals to the state and to our board of directors to make sure it would be healthy and safe to operate.

With so many uncertainties about COVID-19, I constantly work to relax my vision so that I may see more of the periphery to know what questions to ask and what concerns to be on the lookout for.

As a performer, I am looking to create new venues for performance and new ways to engage audiences. Performance has the ability to make grand evolutionary shifts as a result of the environment we are currently living in.

Catherine Nunn

Catherine Nunn is a fine-art painter and instructor based in Brattleboro.

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When the pandemic hit, I was in the process of launching an affordable beginning traditional realism painting class, but we had to put the kibosh on that. I was really excited because I was getting a lot of interest in learning traditional old-school techniques.

The group that I paint with in Putney is still meeting via Zoom, which is enjoyable but really not the same. It is very difficult to critique each other’s work for drawing accuracy and color since the camera distorts. Also, the glare makes it hard to see the paintings. Composition is really the only thing you can critique.

Of course, people can paint wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. However, you can’t get as many students in a given amount of space, which becomes a financial challenge because you have to factor in the model fee.

Outdoor landscape painting obviously does not present the same challenges as doing, say, an indoor portrait session. I think all painting get-togethers for the foreseeable future are going to have to limit their numbers and admit people on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Hallie Flower

Hallie Flower is executive director of New England Youth Theatre, based in Brattleboro. NEYT provides educational opportunities in drama for youth and performances for the local community.

* * *

As I write, this is the first day of summer programs, when ordinarily our building is full of more than 100 young people and adults. Right now, three people are here. But we have been in rehearsal all morning.

We have a very small group doing a musical theater intensive on Zoom. And then we are going to try some physically distanced work on campus in masks. Today, we worked outside in the blazing heat.

Because we’re working with singing and dancing, we must follow additional safety guidelines. Whereas the state guidelines say 6 feet is good with a mask, we know that singers and actors are working with breath deeper in the lungs, so they exhale different particulates. They call singers “super spreaders.”

So we actually need to have 12 to 16 feet between people — that’s challenging. And then we need to work on acting where you don’t have to wear a mask. That is why we’re going to continue to use Zoom.

Our traditional musical theater intensive will take the form of an almost-documentary through Zoom and self-taping. The group is creating a reflection of what human connection feels like as a young person in this area during the pandemic.

The senior company Shakespeare program is still doing Romeo and Juliet. But they’ve adjusted their concept to really focus on the othering that happens in the story, which feels very relevant to the time. The kids are really excited about that.

Students will actually be doing a physically distanced film shoot. Two of our alumni who are now filmmakers will donate their expertise and do a shoot during the time when we would have ordinarily have staged our performances, and they’ll edit that piece with the director.

As for our other remote programs, everybody’s really got Zoom burnout from school. We tried to come up with smaller experiences that still give students a connection to one another and let them make something really cool together.

That’s really why the kids come: They want to be together and they want to make something really cool.

Kim Eng Yeo

Kim Eng Yeo is a watercolor artist with an international perspective. She paints from her studio in Townsend.

* * *

The lockdown has affected a lot of painters who need venues to show their work. I wasn’t that badly impacted because I have consignment artwork at a gallery in Brattleboro.

It impacts you emotionally after a while because of the idea of being isolated — especially in Vermont, where there is a good network of artists but most artists are solitary.

The pandemic has impacted a lot of sales for people in the visual arts. Most of the younger folks will probably have a harder time showing because all the art events have been cancelled.

Those who are computer savvy will be able to move their art business online.

Most artists I know hold a second job, so if that other job is cut off, it would be pretty devastating, especially for those of us with families.

I had to cancel two open studios in Vermont this year: one for Memorial Day weekend, and the first weekend of October (which they are still hoping to have). Hopefully, I will be able to participate in 2021.

Some businesses have been approaching artists to participate in some online auctions, but it is not easy to sell artwork online.

During this time, I am hoping to produce work. I have been painting for a long time, so I don’t have a problem with discipline. But other artists might give up altogether, especially performance artists, whose situation is tricky because their work needs an audience.

I think a lot of us are looking forward to 2021, assuming that the virus will be under control. We will just hunker down.

Jen Austin

Jen Austin is executive and creative director of the Brattleboro People Places & History of Words Project, which was awarded a multi-year National Endowment for the Humanities matching grant in 2015 to help this region explore a rich but undersung history of the words in Windham County and the people who worked with them. The project partners include Marlboro College, the Brattleboro Literary Festival, the Brattleboro Historical Society, Brooks Memorial Library, and Write Action.

* * *

Our biggest impact has been on our ability to record audio for the Words Trail component of the project, which provides self-guided tours on the literary, printing, and publishing legacy of the area.

As we are working with community members, many of whom have little to no audio recording experience, we have always made it a priority to provide lots of hands-on training through workshops and one-on-one recording sessions. That has completely changed.

Thankfully, we have super-creative, committed people involved. Our project director, Lissa Weinmann, has set up a space at 118 Elliot, which allows her to assist our researchers with live recording sessions.

There have been periods where it felt like we were having to change significant aspects of the project. Adapting to those changing needs and having a supportive team have been crucial to meeting our overarching goals the best way possible (and even finding paths to improvement in some of those challenges).

We are looking forward to our official launch and opening of the three-month exhibit at Brattleboro Museum and Art Center on Oct. 23.

Whether the state is fully reopened by the time we launch, people will get tremendous value out of new platforms. The Words Trail will give people a new way to experience Brattleboro and the region — and it’s a way that can bring us together, no matter how distant we must remain.

Ruth Antoinette Rodriguez

Ruth Antoinette Rodriguez is a poet and co-owner, with Jeremy Sowell, of Antidote Books in Putney. The bookstore, a space for national and international author events, has reopened by appointment for up to two people at a time and with precautions.

* * *

When you start to strip away the physical space, the events, the exchange of energy between bookseller and book lover, you are able to examine your business in distillation, at its core. This undoing is a sort of gift in and of itself.

Though the psychological and financial impact of this cosmic halt has been profound for Antidote Books, such has been the impact of our ardent book lovers on the heart of our small business during this this time.

David Stern

David Stern is artistic director of Main Street Arts in Saxtons River.

* * *

Main Street Arts was two days from opening a major musical at the Bellows Falls Opera House when we decided we needed to cancel the eight-performance event.

Like all small arts nonprofits, we are a very lean organization with relatively small cash reserves. Having invested a great deal of resources mounting this production, we were especially vulnerable at that exact moment.

After careful consideration, we decided that it would be quite some time before we would be able to return to presenting events — our main source of revenue — and we elected to go dormant for the foreseeable future. We could not continue to pay employees and run our facility without income when the Payroll Protection Program expires.

As a result, on July 7, MSA will halt traditional operations and will remain dormant until we are able to return to more traditional programming modalities. I am now unemployed and am actively engaged in finding new work opportunities.

We do not believe that a reopening is currently possible for theaters. Even if it is legal to do so, we do not believe that it would be safe, or that people would attend in any numbers.

We believe it will be a good deal of time — maybe until a vaccine is available — before performance-events programming can return to any sense of normality. Even then, it would not surprise me if it takes the public a bit of time to return en masse to 550-seat venues such as the Opera House.

Bridget Struthers

A dancer, teacher, choreographer, and life-long dance and movement enthusiast, Bridget Struthers owns and directs the Brattleboro School of Dance.

* * *

Our students have been hit hard because they went from dancing together in class, hugging one another, joyously jostling, sharing food — all things that make one feel close and connected — to being isolated at home and Zooming in for dance classes (and everything else). For a long time before the weather got nice, they weren’t really able to move their bodies!

As an artist, all my projects are put on hold.

We have reopened for small in-person classes and camps. We have a whole slew of safety guidelines and protocols.

We quickly realized that dancing in masks is quite taxing, so we are dancing outside as much as possible. We go up to the park, where everyone picks a spot and creates a dance.

The dancers have been loving it, and it has brought out a joy of movement that we’ve all missed over the past few months.

John Davis

With his wife, Terry, John Davis handcrafts Vermont Rocks — sports figures created in stainless steel and mounted on Vermont stone from Newfane.

* * *

We put mostly stainless steel, laser cut figures on natural Vermont stones and sell them at a variety of venues, including retail shops, sports events, and art fairs. Since the pandemic, we have had to rely solely on internet sales. It is a significant impact — like 90 percent of our business has vanished because we usually travel to events around the country.

We do wholesale to small gift shops in Vermont, so the sooner that they are able to safely do business with tourists who are coming back into the state, the better off we will be. But I would much prefer Vermont remain in the minority and be one of the safer states than go the ridiculous route that the other states have gone in.

We find ourselves in a difficult position of balancing business and politics, and that is difficult because our livelihood is at stake here. We are finding it really hard to make a living, and we wish that weren’t the case, but at the same time, we have to be prudent and intelligent.

Joshua Farr

Joshua Farr is executive director of the Vermont Center for Photography in Brattleboro. In addition to its gallery, VCP also offers a public darkroom, lending library, and PhotoThrift, a retail space for purchasing used and donated photographic equipment, film, and related items.

* * *

At VCP, we have been open only by appointment, and we enforce strict mask and distancing policies. We have been able to pivot and generate funds online — both in contributions as well as sales of photographic equipment, which we have normally done in-person in our small on-site thrift shop.

We have obviously missed the more intense and direct engagement with our members and folks in the community — and 99 percent of all of our scheduled events and workshops have been indefinitely postponed — but all in all, we are holding strong.

I would have guessed we’d be reopened fully by now, but with things rapidly evolving nationally, we have opted to stay as-is for the foreseeable future and to continue to find creative ways to engage with our audiences remotely — including photography exhibitions in outdoor public spaces as well as online.

Robin MacArthur

Author and editor Robin MacArthur is the creative force behind Word House, an emerging entity dedicated to fostering the literary and creative arts in Brattleboro and surrounding communities.

* * *

Word House has been completely shut down since March, and I have no plans to reopen until we have herd immunity or a vaccine.

I’m doing some deep reimagining (like so many of us) about what creative community and equitable arts programming can look like in this shifting world of ours. No answers yet; I’m thinking of this time as a fertile pause for deep listening, reflecting and incubating.

Danny Lichtenfeld

Danny Lichtenfeld is executive director of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

* * *

We opened eight new exhibits, each in the development stages for a year or more, on March 14 — one day before Coronavirus forced us to close. We did not reopen the museum until June 18. Those exhibits were originally slated to close in mid-June, but we’ve extended them until October.

Of course, that has meant delaying or cancelling our planned summer exhibits, with ripple effects extending into the fall and winter.

We believe we were the first museum to reopen in Vermont, and it remains to be seen whether and when people will feel comfortable going to the museum again. During our first week of being open again, attendance was about 25 percent of what we would normally see at this time of year.

BMAC also presents cultural events and offers a wide array of education programs, many carried out in collaboration with local schools. All such events and programs were cancelled. Some have been retooled for Zoom, but not all.

We had planned a multipart exploration of homelessness in Brattleboro and beyond, prompted by two of the exhibits currently on view. Now that our galleries are open, we are talking with Groundworks Collaborative about whether it could be worthwhile to present these events online.

We did not have to lay off, furlough, or reduce hours for our small staff. The financial hit we’ve taken from the loss of such revenue (admission fees, event fees, gift shop sales, facility rentals, fundraisers, business sponsorship funds, etc.) has been more or less covered by federal stimulus grants, special relief grants, and a number of our donors stepping up with additional support.

What our financial model will look like going forward, when short-term COVID-19 relief funds are no longer available, is not clear at this time.

For that matter, whether it will make sense for us to continue offering the same types of programs we were offering pre-COVID-19 is also unclear.

We usually host close to 100 field trips over the course of the school year. Will that be possible again anytime soon? Will our education curator be able to return to the schools and work with students and teachers? If not, we will need to work with schools — when they have the bandwidth to do so — to figure out how we can continue to be of use to them.

Similarly, will we be able to host crowded events — artist talks, workshops, lectures, concerts — again anytime soon?

We’ve begun offering some events online, and that offers some exciting new possibilities for reaching new audiences, but is that really what our future looks like?

Since we reopened, we have new health and safety protocols as well as new gallery staff positions and an optional online reservation system. So far, it’s all going very smoothly. We have shifted to admission on a “pay as you wish” basis, because so many people are facing huge financial uncertainty.

Bottom line: We closed. We’re basically open again. We’re in stable financial condition. But we have big questions about what our operation can and should look like in the future, and how we can best serve our community in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Greg Worden

Greg Worden is the longtime proprietor of Vermont Artisan Designs, a fine art and contemporary American craft gallery which has been around Brattleboro for nearly 50 years.

* * *

Vermont Artisan Designs was closed for nine weeks and we had to furlough our workers for the first time ever due to COVID-19. We work with around 300 artists and artisans who depend on our sales for part of their livelihood.

We’ve now opened from noon to 4 p.m. daily and by appointment, and it’s really nice to start seeing people venture out into downtown again. We’re fortunate that there is ample room in the gallery to socially distance. We offer masks for those who need them, hand sanitizer at the entrances, and disposable gloves for those who request them. We want our visitors to feel safe and be safe.

We’ve been working on a greater online presence as a way to reach our customer base: finishing a new website, utilizing Instagram and Facebook, and recording Zoom interviews and tours. We envision more visitors online but also a gradual return of friends.

Overall, for any downtown to survive it’s going to take a commitment from people to shop locally — whether it’s art or gifts or meals from restaurants or clothing. It takes a community to save its shops.

Shoshana Bass

Shoshana Bass is co-artistic director of Sandglass Theater in Putney, which celebrates the art of puppetry.

* * *

There’s a lot of narrative about theaters being the first to close and last to reopen in such situations. A lot of us are scrambling toward virtual programming and new platforms and new modes of connecting with an audience. A lot of us have been learning or relearning all-new skill sets and marketing tactics, digital production, and the like.

Right off the bat, we did a lot of weekly workshops for kids who were at home. This summer we’re streaming almost 40 years of Sandglass performances.

There are the challenges, of course, of not being able to be in the same space, but there’s also some opportunities that we’re finding to give people access to our work.

I have a lot to say about art and its relevance right now and how we’re all navigating what’s happening in our own unique ways.

Some of the art that’s poured out from everyone for free online is really well produced, and some of it totally crappy. And everybody can ask people to pay what they can, but no one feels they can really charge for this kind of experience.

Some artists are just going dormant — people have been using the term “artists-in-waiting.” But for the rest of us, you know we need to continue to create — that’s what we do. And the amount of new training that most of us are going through right now is so much that it’s almost hard to get back to the art because we are so full of learning how to produce in this way right now and learning how to monetize the profession in this new form and how to even assess if it’s needed, or who it’s for.

Because as soon as it’s all online, it’s starting to try to compete with something like Netflix or Amazon — and that’s not at all what most of us do.

Petey Mitchell and Jim Giddings

Petria “Petey” Mitchell and Jim Giddings are owners of Mitchell-Giddings Fine Arts, a gallery that recently expanded into much larger space on Brattleboro’s Main Street.

* * *

We had a fabulous early part of the year for January and February and even into March. And so the cessation of business seemed really extreme and abrupt. Now that we’ve reopened, it’s nice to have a few customers come in, but it hasn’t been the same. It’s slow right now.

Arts workers have been categorized as non-essential. But we are essential to the quality of people’s lives.

We still believe wholeheartedly in the importance of people being able to see the artwork firsthand. Even though it really goes against why we opened the gallery in the first place, we understand that nothing is going to be the same, that the website and online visibility will be more and more important. We’re strengthening our online presence and adding e-gift cards.

But It’s really hard to make additional plans. Big questions remain about how COVID-19 is going to be affecting us in three or four or five months.

We have had to cancel shows, and we’ve had to redesign others. It’s unclear whether we can have limited people and any kind of in-person gallery openings anytime soon.

Experiencing the artwork virtually— as opposed to energetically, in front of you — is very, very different. It’s just like not be able to hug your people and see people’s smiling faces — there’s a barrier between the experience.

Robin Johnson

Robin Johnson owns and manages The Stone Church, a historic church building in downtown Brattleboro that has been repurposed into a community and performing arts space.

* * *

Our business is a perfect storm for spreading an airborne pathogen like this — we draw large numbers of people traveling from the greater region congregating indoors, often with dancing and alcohol.

That’s why venues like ours were the first businesses to close and will be the last to reopen. The entire industry has ground to a halt, with most national tours delayed until 2021 or later. Estimates are that 90 percent of independent venues will close within six months without further — or more appropriate — federal support.

We are in no hurry to try to reopen — we feel that it is wiser to prioritize health and safety for now.

We have been working on live-streaming performances from the venue, which will hopefully become at least a small revenue stream and eventually a bonus once we’re able to fully reopen. We are considering opening to small audiences for the live streams.

One positive has been a large-scale bonding of sorts across the industry. I have been working with the National Independent Venue Association, an organization born out of the crisis and made up of more than 2,000 venues and producers. Its #SaveOurStages campaign helps music lovers to reach out to their congresspeople to lobby in support of independent venues.

Catherine Dianich Gruver

Catherine Dianich Gruver is gallerist at the Dianich Gallery in downtown Brattleboro.

* * *

The Dianich Gallery has been closed since early March. We are now open by appointment only to represent artists and their artwork for acquisition. We hope to open in the fall. Our priority is the well-being of our community.

Often, the Dianich has been at the intersection of art and politics. In some ways, fall 2020 will be no different. But because these are unprecedented times in our community and the world at large, this for me as a curator feels like a defining moment.

Thus, the plans for the reopening exhibition will be emblematic of these times.

Alan Steinberg

Alan Steinberg is a member of Brattleboro Clayworks, a collective of potters sharing a studio, classroom, and gallery space at 532 Putney Rd., Brattleboro. He also is a psychotherapist.

* * *

I have not been in the studio since the virus. I let go of the idea that I would try to teach a class. I haven’t made any work or tried to sell it. I am not really interested in reaching people online. I suspect as the virus unfolds, I will not be back in the studio until there is a vaccine.

The members of the Brattleboro Clayworks are doing a good job of really considering the issues so that everyone can access the space. But as somebody who’s really at high risk of COVID-19, I’m not taking a chance.

On the other hand, I’ve taken my therapy practice outdoors. My clients and I are keeping a safe distance from each other, or we are sitting on rocks, stumps, or by the side of a lake to have our process.

I’ve decided that I am about to do that with the clay.

I’m doing a class this summer: “Shall We Take This Outside? Clay sculpting in the time of COVID.” I’m hoping to use the Putney Central School pavilion — nice roof, no walls, and picnic tables.

Beyond that, I haven’t a clue. I don’t know where to start. Clearly, this pandemic has put us in the position of everybody asking themselves what matters in life.

That is art’s department — a means of helping us process what we think is important.

Arlene Distler

Arlene Distler, a poet and art critic, is cofounder of Write Action, a nonprofit group to support Brattleboro area writers in their work and their lives.

* * *

We have no bricks and mortar, so the idea of a physical opening up is not an issue.

We have taken our meetings online through Zoom, but our board works better when we can meet in person. We operate most efficiently and effectively when we can have discussions in real time, in one another’s presence. I think we all miss that.

We have not held our annual contest this year; it feels like too much. We also usually hold an annual fundraiser around April. We need to do so — we are a close-to-the-bone organization. Our annual picnic, open reading, and potluck is a great networking opportunity, but we are not sure if that will happen this year.

We managed to plan a Zoom reading, which went really well — we attracted 10 to 15 people. Our big events have usually drawn about 25 to 30 people. As the state reopens, we might be considering more Zoom events. There are a few things we have not figured out yet, but I think writing is particularly well suited to this format.

In October, we have the Print Town book coming out of the Brattleboro Words project — we hope we can have a real launch this fall, and we are kind of planning for that.

The writing arts are done alone, and fortunately, the pandemic has not impacted that part of what we do. I do think more people are writing during the lockdown, even people who have not written in a long time. And it’s been documented that people are also reading a lot more — particularly poetry.

Victoria K. Heisler

Victoria K. Heisler is executive director of In-Sight Photography Project, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit that offers photography courses at the introductory, intermediate and advanced levels for students ages 11 to 18.

* * *

In-Sight functions beyond photography classes. We are a space for youth to learn, connect with mentors, do homework, eat snacks, and hang out. We’re an organization that has historically served our participants in person.

After looking at other youth programs in the state and what’s happening locally, we’ve decided to postpone all in-person classes through the summer and embrace virtual learning and community building.

We had to abruptly close our doors for the longest period that we’ve ever really had to. It’s been hard to have to cut off access to this space. Time will tell the true impact on our participants.

We also had to get creative about offering classes and experiences online.

Our volunteer teachers have looked at these new challenges as “creative limitations” and are encouraging all of us to do so. We are also starting to see the silver lining that, by going online, we can be accessible beyond our physical space.

The reality is that information around the pandemic is constantly evolving, and we need to continually embrace new limitations as they happen. However, what we learn from these moments will help shape our future in positive ways.

The safety of our community is the most important thing, and we’re going to keep evaluating our next steps based on that.

Keith Marks

Keith Marks is executive director of the Next Stage Arts Project, a performing arts organization and theater in Putney.

* * *

When everything shut down, we pivoted.

About a week after we closed the doors, we launched two online series: the Quarantine Sessions and Cooped Up Kids. We reached out to our global network of artists, who began sending us videos. We put together title screens and intros and outros and launched them.

Somewhere along the way, we started ringing our bell every evening in an act of solidarity with the community. People who live in the village center have come out every evening with pots and pans and whistles, and they make a lot of noise.

We transitioned our Fables storytelling series online, hosted by Peter “Fish” Case.

And now, as things are in this very transitionary unknown situation, we’re looking to program in socially distant, responsible ways where we maybe have some analog events.

We’re going to launch a drive-in concert series with Vermont Jazz Center’s jazz sextet in the parking lot of Basketville. We’re getting a tiny home called the Bandwagon, which has a rooftop stage.

We’re in the middle of acquiring technical gear so that we can produce online content and prerecorded content.

We’re working on putting together a civil rights/social justice book club. The kitchen committee and the gallery committee are also looking to put content online.

The first few months, we were in triage mode, asking What does this look like? How do we move forward? Then we started looking for funding. And now we’re kind of in this third phase of re-engaging the community and making sure that we don’t lose our core value: being relevant to community needs and educating, uplifting, and entertaining our greater community.

Walter Slowinski

Walter Slowinski, a potter, coordinates Brattleboro-West Arts, a collective of artists from that area. He also serves as a trustee.

* * *

The impact of COVID-19 on Brattleboro-West Arts artists has been huge. Our shows and gigs have been cancelled as the galleries closed. We have had minimal sales or performance opportunities.

Some of our artists have taken a break from producing their art due to not having a ready outlet. Others have ramped up their art production, taking advantage of having more time available.

Some of us are teachers, so we have been adapting to online methods. Some shows have gone online.

I have put my pottery production on hold and have spent my time working in the garden and orchard, and with my honeybees. I’ve been playing piano a lot.

We continue our monthly Brattleboro-West Arts meetings through Zoom. Certainly, as opportunities for sales increase, production will increase. We’re expecting that teaching, selling, and meeting online will continue to be a major part of our lives for the indefinite future.

Anne Latchis

Anne Latchis is general manager of Strolling of the Heifers, a nonprofit that advances an agricultural mission and owns and operates the River Garden in downtown Brattleboro, a community space that includes an art gallery.

The organization seeks exhibits for its walls as well as online presentation booking through next year.

* * *

After COVID-19 arrived, the Strolling of the Heifers halted our Gallery at the River Garden exhibits until it becomes safe to continue.

We are now exploring ways to resume art installations that are open to public viewing in addition to offering artists exposure through an online gallery, with artist statements and videos promoted through our social media and website.

This opens up the ability to highlight both local and international artists to a far-wider audience.

John Loggia

John Loggia is co-owner of 118 Elliot, an art gallery and events venue in downtown Brattleboro.

* * *

Most programming at 118 Elliot comes from community members renting the space. So far, our regular classes want to return but don’t know when. Films series and larger events are unlikely this year.

Since 118 has no funding or income other than rent for the space, we need to reconsider our business model.

So, instead of an event space that also has art on the walls, 118 Elliot is poised to become more of a gallery that also accommodates limited classes and events.

Before the pandemic, I had been working with some local artists to establish a permanent art collection at 118. Now we are working out how 118 can run as a gallery that nurtures new artists and sells at affordable prices while sustaining itself. We are almost set for a group show in August.

I will work with artists in our first show to curate the next. Those next artists will then be asked to help with the next show, and so forth. We will focus on local artists and follow guidelines that emphasize diversity along with aesthetic and conceptual preferences. We also hope to nurture artists who may need time to develop a consistent body of work.

We are thinking long term but taking it all day by day, committed to trying to sustain the space for the benefit of the community as long as we can.

Dante Corsano

Dante Corsano is co-owner of Gallery in the Woods with his wife, Suzanne. He is also a woodworker and a musician.

* * *

We closed in March as we were trying to figure out what was going on. That has pretty much remained our guiding response.

Other than curbside pickup, we are pretty much keeping things closed. If customers are local, there is not much of a problem, because there is not much of a situation going on here. However, as soon as you factor in where people are coming from, it becomes another issue.

For five weeks, I have done the Saturday curbside, playing my guitar in front of the store. The first three weeks, I could hear myself because there was so little traffic. But each week, there was a little bit more. Most recently, I thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of a lot of people who are starting to travel.” That is going to change things.

That said, those are the people who are going to buy the art — a lot of our art market is tourist driven.

We did a fundraiser in late May. William Hays, the artist who does linocut prints in the gallery, generously said, “Okay, I’m going to sell one of my prints in Brattleboro for $75 and I am going to donate all of the money to Gallery in the Woods to help them get through.”

We sold a lot of them. It was a huge success. People were inspired that he was doing that and supported the effort by buying his work. The community is outstanding.

Some of the people are going to take those pictures and bring them to Zephyr Designs to get them framed, so they will be able to make some money. It was a good ripple effect.

In terms of getting this thing under control — yeah, we need our economy back, but jumping in and trying to make it go away is wishful thinking. That is only going to make things worse.

We know the dollar is driving a lot of things, but the dollar doesn’t drive us. My well-being and the well-being of my customers is more important than my bank account.

It’s really important to me that the gallery be there — it is not about us trying to make money. We have a whole different approach. I feel like I am some kind of ambassador for beauty, well-being, art — right down to the music we play.

I have a pretty high sense of right and wrong, and I always expect people to do the right thing. I approached my landlord to let him know, “Here it is. I’ve made no money. If you want to kick me out, I’ll move, but how bad would that be for the morale of the town and to have a big hole there on Main Street?” Because the landlord is willing to help out, and because of William Hays’ fundraiser, and because people have been buying gift certificates, we can tread water.

We can pay our electricity bill, the phone, the insurance, etc. And we are okay with just getting by. Nobody is working for me now, I no longe have a payroll, I don’t have worker’s comp. By having so much less going on, maybe I can just hang in there.

Donna C. Hawes

Donna C. Hawes is the executive director of the River Gallery School of Art in Brattleboro.

* * *

Having to immediately close the River Gallery School’s doors in and of itself was the most shocking and traumatic aspect for us and for the students.

We communicated with all of our students — children, teens, and adults — to let them know we’d be here for them and that we’d do our best to navigate these strange times. We also wanted to let them know that we wanted to get back to the art making that helps everybody manage their stress.

It took us about three weeks, but we created an online presence, and we moved a couple of studio classes for the adults to online. Anywhere from a handful to about eight people were able to do it, whereas the 60 or 70 people — basically the bulk of the people — weren’t interested in going online.

We lost that connection. And it is hard to know the impact in the long term.

The same thing with the children. We set up a children’s online studio, which was not successful due to the fact that the kids were already having to learn remotely with their school program. So we lost that connection with our children.

We applied for a lot of relief grants and we were awarded an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration, which helped to get us through. With a couple of grants, we made about 60 paper bags with art supplies that we distributed to the children.

We are trying to navigate the Paycheck Protection Program loan, and the Town Arts Fund stepped up and gave us some emergency funds as well.

I am trying to sit with that question of the impact. It is an experience that we are all going through, and the school has been receiving frequent support from the community. People have been remembering us either through donations or the purchase of gift certificates, so a lot of support has been coming our way, and that feels really good.

We’re continuing to do an ambitious program called Art for Social Change. Jess Weitz has been working with people, hearing firsthand how our students are being affected.

We are going to make an attempt at opening the school and we are going to do summer programming. We have rolled out some limited class offerings for six to eight students in a slot. I felt terrible about having to cancel our seven-week morning art camp, which we’ve offered for the last 20 years, and that really was difficult for parents in the community.

Two of our teachers — Lynn Zimmerman and Jess Weitz — immediately started planning weekly online classes that were brand new and very popular. People are getting the hang of it and they are enjoying the group.

That is the silver lining that came out of this. We are learning this new business model of online teaching, and it’s appearing to be successful.

Jamie Hodgson

Jamie Hodgson is executive director of the New England Center for Circus Arts

* * *

NECCA suspended all in-person programming and shifted our focus to how we might be able to meet the needs of our students online. We provided “pay what you can” classes over Zoom and were surprised to learn how many regional and national students would be able to take advantage of this platform.

We have developed a carefully phased reopening schedule with extensive safety precautions in place, including mandatory health screening for only a few, extra-distanced “return to training” classes for the community.

We are looking forward to seeing our students in person again and slowly get back to sharing circus together.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #568 (Wednesday, July 1, 2020). This story appeared on page A3.

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