Editor’s Note: Open Call is a new column where we are calling on art and culture guides to share their perspectives on how to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and welcome audiences again.
The Newark Arts Alliance has been a group of creatives for over 28 years.
What did we learn during this time? Always expecting the unexpected, moving us through good times and bad, so we can keep that creative spirit alive for ourselves and our community.
We have seen space relocations, economic downturns, funding losses and a pandemic in 2021. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, we were faced with a contagious disease that is life threatening.
Of course we weren’t alone.
I had just returned as CEO after a seven-year absence, and I was eager to add new programs and try out new ideas that I had gathered in my absence. We had just finished our Art of Dessert fundraiser in February when COVID hit.
The 22 spring courses I had planned were just beginning to enroll. Now they were in the balance as we saw the news and learned week after week what this pandemic was really about. The spring dates have been moved to early summer dates and then moved back to summer in the hope that people will be comfortable coming to events and we will be comfortable offering them.
Other open calls:The Delaware Symphony Orchestra looks to the future following pandemic challenges
Little by little, we became experts in things like disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks, air quality, social distancing, supplies sharing, and space capacity.
Suddenly we could no longer hope for a full house for something we were offering. Everything had to be cut back. Small is good. Big is dangerous. We bought small tables and spread them out, used our main gallery as a classroom because it was bigger, got an indoor air purifier, and added HEPA filters to our air conditioner.
We gradually got some enrollments and people were hesitant to sign up for a few courses. Enrollment was certainly not possible, but we stayed there.
We canceled our artist receptions, which was a monthly gathering of creative people celebrating the current show. Our annual gala dinner / auction had to be redesigned as an online auction without eating together, without live music and without a personal gingerbread house competition. Everything went online.
As creatives, we’ve learned to adapt to the limits of COVID and have had to cancel many events that required more than eight people to come together at the same time.
We offered our annual Newark Garden Tour last June and were shocked to sell 165 tickets, the largest ever at the height of COVID. People wanted something to do and we gave them a safe option, a self-guided tour of the surrounding gardens, all outside in masks.
We weren’t sure if we should offer Camp Imagine as it is supposed to offer music, art, drama, and dance classes to 36 children. How could we make it safe? Would families enroll? We dropped the chant, moved the camp to our gallery, and kept it for only eight happy children for two weeks. We took temperatures, wore masks, did art, danced and did crazy skits and somehow survived intact.
Now we are ready to host another camp with 16 children this July. We know what works and what doesn’t, and we can give kids another great year exploring the arts.
In February we tried an online wine event instead of our regular dessert tasting, where we “pulled mysterious wines from artist-decorated bags” for guests via Zoom. The bags became a highlight when 72 bags were presented.
We offered roadside pickup for art sales and winter art classes at Zoom. Whatever we had to do to stay in the game, we would do it.
Our programs are slowly coming back. Our spring courses are filling up. Our summer camp, Camp Imagine, builds up the enrollment.
Our art exhibitions carefully have in-person receptions with food offered outside in a tent and guests limited inside.
On Friday May 28th we are hosting a Happy Hour & Trunk Show to showcase eight artists selling work from their cars and stands in their parking lot. And we have two solo / group shows in May and June, both of which have been postponed due to COVID times.
If small is good, we can make small. If we need to rethink a previous offering, we can adapt, change, and push it forward with a new twist.
Other open calls:The wonder of nature inspires Longwood Gardens to focus on tomorrow’s promise
Creative thinking prepares us for this. Making art is much more than beautiful pictures, it is creative problem solving.
We thrive when faced with challenges. Our community support has never been so strong. Our commitment to art has never been so great.
We warmly welcome everyone to visit, participate and learn. We’re not going anywhere.
To learn more about the Newark Arts Alliance and its exhibits, gallery stores, courses, camps, and special events, visit www.newarkartsalliance.org
Terry Foreman has been in community arts programming for 28 years, has worked as a mural painter, graphic designer, artist, and teacher, and is a founding member of the Newark Arts Alliance.