Here in Carlisle, The Trout Gallery isn’t the only visual arts organization that is developing new ways of engaging with audiences during COVID quarantine. Last week, The Trout Gallery launched this site, Trout From Home, allowing us to bring original content to our audiences through staff-developed series, such as our Tales From the Vault, Object Stories, Artful Conversations and Soul Food offerings. Just a few blocks from us, Carlisle Arts Learning Center (CALC), has similarly been innovating new approaches to audience engagement. And just this past week, we’ve begun to collaborate with CALC on the quARanTine Creatively series, proving there’s no time like the present to come together as a community. I sat down (virtually, of course) with Becky Richeson, Executive Director of CALC, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for programming during a public health crisis.
Heather: Let me start by asking about your own experience leading an organization as directives related to COVID-19 came down from the government. What were your thoughts as this was all happening? From a practical and logistic standpoint, how did your organization shift gears?
Becky: Good morning, Heather. Thank you so much for talking with me today, and let me say I am so impressed with all that the Trout Gallery has done to support our community through the arts in this pandemic. I am honored to be here with you today. As the novel coronavirus arrived in Pennsylvania, my first two thoughts were: it is times like these that the arts are the most relevant, and CALC is nimble and will move quickly to serve our community through the arts. In the week before the schools and nonessential businesses were closing, CALC had two important events, Empty Bowls to benefit Project SHARE and our school district opening reception. We moved quickly to reformat them so that there would not be large crowds, and we could move forward without cancelling them— we knew this would be a critical year to raise funds for Project SHARE and the student opening is so important to our youth.
Then, with the closing of schools and nonessential businesses, the most practical thing to do of course was lock our doors, but logistically we were not stopping – rather we were gearing up and everything was moved to our homes and we all established remote satellite offices and have become well acquainted with zoom. Schools were closed effective March 16 and we launched our first new program March 18 and our second on March 22.
Heather: Let’s talk mission. Both of our institutions have missions that emphasize engagement with our communities. How do you go about engaging with audiences when they can’t step foot in your space? How did your team decide on the scope and focus of your programming?
Becky: CALC’s mission is to inspire individual growth and community engagement through the arts, so when we were talking about the focus of our programs, we felt that we wanted to meet our mission in both aspects – on an individual level, and on a community level, but we also want people to connect with one another. On an individual level we wanted to have opportunities for people to create and for people to be inspired in their homes. Through quARanTine Creatively, families are given an art project each day which can be done with materials one would generally have at home, and through Works in Progress we are virtually entering artist studios and hearing what inspires them, so that others might be inspired.
But then you have to ask yourself – how do we connect people to each other in their community through the arts, through these programs and through other programs? So we have taken programs to social media where people can connect and interact and build upon each others’ energy. We are having people share their creations and have a dialogue with the artists about works in progress. In addition, we started to engage the community through more specific projects, such as our Thank You Series which includes a series of original printable signs people can color and display to thank delivery workers, healthcare workers, and essential workers of all types.
(To view and print CALC’s array of in-house designed Thank-you signs Click HERE.)
We also created and widely distributed a Creativity Journal to promote stress and anxiety reduction for healthcare workers and teachers.
(Highly recommended! Print your own CALC-original Creativity Journal–-Heather’s favorite: the Dream Zoom Meeting Page)
On a larger scale, we wrapped our building with a huge sunshine to brighten what is now an empty street, and installed powerful words of encouragement for our entire community on a large storefront downtown.
Heather: So, I love the title of one of the programs you’ve created during this time, quARanTine Creatively with Lauren (hence the title of this interview). And, I’m really excited that you have asked us to partner with you on it. Can you tell us more about this program?
Becky: Thank you, and we are excited to partner too! quARanTine Creatively with Lauren is a daily program in which CALC educator, Lauren Delk, leads families through a new art project every day. We believe this is important because research shows that creating reduces stress and anxiety and there’s never been a more stressful time than now. The other great thing about creating is that it can bring family members of all ages together–something especially important when we’re spending a lot of time with our families. In the program, Lauren walks you through simple art projects that can be completed with items you usually have on hand. They seem like simple projects, but they can easily be taken to the next level. We are excited to partner with the Trout Gallery so that these daily art exercises will tie into works in your collection. This will offer more depth to the projects and a deeper exploration of the art historical roots of various media as well as concepts in the arts.
The segment on art and imagination features current Trout Gallery exhibition, Framing Space. Click HERE to check it out.
Heather: I’m sure this will change over time, but as of right now, what is your personal favorite “episode” among all of the content CALC has published during COVID? Why do you love it?
Becky: I do love each day’s episode, but I think one of my favorites is the pop up cards. I guess there are two reasons – one, who doesn’t love pop up cards?!?, but, I also can imagine how these cards can be used and taken to the next step – as we’re under strict stay at home orders, people are still celebrating birthdays and holidays and Mother’s Day. I see it as a project that can go out into the world to bring joy and connection— can anything be more powerful than that?
Heather: I’d like to end this interview by learning more about your perspective on the arts during times of crisis. How have you seen the arts community come together here in Carlisle during COVID-19? What role can the arts play in times of crisis?
Becky: I believe the arts are more important now than ever. The arts bring people together and build connection, which is the most important thing in this time of absolute uncertainty. We say we are in this together – and we mean it. I believe that people are feeling more connected to each other now than ever; I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of artists who are sharing their work, assisting and teaching each other, creating together, supporting each other, and even donating work for the benefit of others. The arts reduce stress, increase self-esteem, and promote emotional and mental health. For many people this has been the most stressful and uncertain time of their lives so we are committed to using the power of the arts to their fullest.