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LCC Grantees Continue to Cultivate Culture During a Crisis
COVID-19 has devastated the arts and cultural sector. No more gigs. No more plays. No more gallery showings. Still, as they usually do, artists are finding ways to make and share their art with the world. Authors are broadcasting from their homes, festivals are streaming online, and musicians are making music and teaching it with platforms like Zoom.
Sharon Leder is the author of The Fix: A Father’s Secrets, A Daughter’s Search and Founder of Creative Outlets, a free after-school program for teens at the Cape Cod Museum of Art providing an array of art-related workshops including visual, dramatic, social media, and culinary (farm to table) arts. In 2003, the 73 ½-year-old Brewster native retired and moved to the Cape after 37 years of teaching in the Big Apple.
“I started writing stories when I left New York City in 1969 to live in North Country near the border with Canada where I had my first college teaching job. As a Jewish New Yorker hippie-type, I didn’t fit in with the local Townies or my conservative colleagues on the English faculty,” Leder said. “I befriended the more kooky people in theater, acted in improv plays, and began writing fiction. Using my imagination in stories based on my actual situation, I renewed my faith in who I was and what I could be and found a way to write my way out to a new and different life.”
Creative Outlets is her way of helping teens today who do not fit a certain box and it has been funded by the Brewster, Chatham, Dennis, Harwich, Mid-Cape, Orleans, Truro, and Wellfleet Local Cultural Councils.
“Creative Outlets empowers youngsters to use the arts to respond in healthy ways to peer pressure especially pressure to ‘fit in.’ We reinforce life skills teens learn in school in our program’s safe and welcoming environment. Kids get to practice using their imagination, connecting with people, taking initiative, asking tough questions, and finding the funny sides of life— while having fun with new friends making art.” Leder said.
During the pandemic, Leder is organizing the arts workshops on Zoom so that the artists she employs can offer online versions of what they would have been doing in-person. One of those artists is Michelle Kazanowski. The 26-year-old theater artist – who grew up in Duxbury but bounces back and forth between Boston and Cape Cod – started as an intern at The Cape Playhouse and is now their Director of Education. If things were normal, Kazanowski would be rehearsing with her colleagues, preparing for shows, and teaching classes to spark the same joy in kids she received when she began performing.
“When I was a child growing up on the South Shore, I performed in the role of Jane in a small production of Mary Poppins. I was about eight years-old at the time. I spent so much time working to memorize my lines and blocking and was overcome with pride when I took my bow on opening night.” Kazanowski said. “I had a very supportive director who allowed me the opportunity to explore what it means to be an artist, and I seek to offer that same type of experience to my own students.”
Now in the time of COVID-19, Kazanowski is doing everything she can to move her teachings online and stay creative.
“Currently, I am isolated with two very supportive roommates (and a very good dog) at our home in Somerville. The Cape Cod Museum of Art is doing a great job of adapting to these times by switching over their Creative Outlets programming to workshops with our participants via Zoom,” Kazanowski said. “Like many others in the performing arts industry, I should be at rehearsal right now as I type this. I was all set to stage manage a children’s production in Plymouth but am instead spending my newfound free time finding ways to adapt and bring accessible arts education to the home through both the Museum and Playhouse. I’ve also begun teaching myself how to play the ukulele.”
Kazanowski organizes weekly free-of-charge performing arts classes for children on the Cape Playhouse’s Facebook where she leads acting classes herself and also taps teaching artists from all over the country to present classes every Monday, Thursday, and Friday. She believes that in a time like this where stress levels are high, the arts have never been more important.
“Right now, more than ever, I believe we need works that create a positive mindset, excite the imagination, and bring people together – albeit not physically. We need to be able to take a step back and express our emotions, as well as allow ourselves to get lost in our work during this challenging time,” Kazanowski said. “Daily, I am seeing videos and pictures of my friends in the performing and visual arts sharing their work and doing demonstrations for others. I think that for both children and adults, the arts are so important so that we can maintain a sense of community, although we are apart. Both the Cape Cod Museum of Art and Cape Playhouse are working to provide free services to a community and world that needs something to smile about right now.”
Another organization looking out for the community on the Cape is Lower Cape TV.
Teresa Martin is the Executive Director of the non-profit media company. She describes herself as a “Navy brat so I’m not really from anywhere,” but when her daughter told her she wanted to find a place where community and education was strong, and was near the coast and family, Cape Cod was the perfect choice. Twelve years later, she claims the Cape as home and fondly remembers being infatuated with the literary and visual arts at an early age.
“I started writing at the age of six and never stopped… As soon as I could hold a pen/pencil/crayon I was writing little stories and illustrating them. It has always been part of me; I can’t remember a time it wasn’t and it never mattered if anyone was interested in the output or not – the process just seemed to be as essential as breathing.”
As her career in journalism progressed, Martin witnessed the shifts in how people interacted with information and how traditional media outlets were consolidated or closed, leaving local communities without a voice. With Lower Cape TV she strives to make sure the community is heard. ArtsLight is Lower Cape TV’s storytelling platform using video, audio, and digital reporting to connect the community and “share the many faces and facets of creative activity and innovation on the Cape.” The program and others at Lower Cape TV have been funded by the Brewster, Chatham, Eastham, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet Local Cultural Councils. Now Martin and her team are using their audio and video tools to connect during a time when the world is being instructed to be physically distant.
“The creative economy plays an important role in our region. We launched ArtsLight to ‘shine a light’ on the sector and its participants and economic impact. Our ArtsLight reporter, filmmaker Johnny Bergmann has been doing a series of conversations – Artists in Isolation – that shares the creative industry’s response to the current COVID-19 crisis,” Martin said. “Prior to the crisis, we had planned for several real-time events with ArtsLight, including a live-streamed roundtable. Right now those plans have been pushed off to the Fall. But that’s okay, what matters is helping share the story we are all experiencing together.”
Leder, Kazanowski, and Martin are just three examples of how Local Cultural Council grantees are continuing to cultivate culture during a crisis. They all agree that we will make it through this period of history more grateful for arts and culture than ever before.
“Something that gives me hope is the resilience and adaptability that the arts sector has demonstrated throughout this time,” Kazanowski said. “Everyone in the world is looking for something to smile about and to bring some positivity to their day, and many of those people are turning to the arts to do so…. Among other things, this crisis has highlighted the importance of the arts to us as a society, and I know that once this is through, we as a sector will thrive.”
“Pandemics – though awful – have always been part of human cycles. Eventually we’ll find a vaccine and we’ll start reconnecting in real-time again. We always rebuild, even when it seems impossible in the short-term moment; our greatest strength is resiliency, even when we don’t realize we have it,” said Martin.
“Does absence make the heart grow fonder? You bet!” Leder said. “I can’t wait to greet and hug all my comrades in art.”