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Staying Connected in the Face of COVID-19

Timothea Pham, Program Officer

As the world adjusts to the new norm of “social distancing,” we understand that this can carry a heavy, psychological price tag for many. Physically distancing ourselves from one another does not necessarily mean losing social connections. Rather, it gives us all an opportunity to think creatively about what we can do and how we can connect in different ways.

Local Cultural Councils (LCCs), cultural organizations, and individual artists throughout Massachusetts have been utilizing technology in innovative ways to engage with each other and to provide relief to the broader community. Here is a snapshot of how our cultural constituents are rising to the challenge:

Utilizing Video Conferencing

As of earlier this month, Governor Baker has temporarily changed Open Meeting Law requirements to allow remote participation. Since LCCs do not need a quorum of members physically present to hold a formal vote, LCCs have been either using teleconferencing or video conferencing via Zoom and Google Hangouts to carry on with business.

Screen shot of a Zoom meeting showing a grid of people's faces.
Newton Cultural Council convening a quorum via Zoom

In addition to meetings, LCC members have also been able to make adjustments to some of their council programs by utilizing video conferencing. For example, Intercambio is a Somerville Arts Council program that focuses on language and culture exchange. In-person sessions are being moved to Google Hangout as a result.

Inspiring Others through Social Media

During this time, we are seeing many people take to social media to inspire, create, and connect with others. Posting a photo, going “live” with an art tutorial, streaming a performance, sharing a status, or direct messaging someone allows you to reach people locally, nationally, and internationally.

Recently, we have taken notice of how Instagram, in particular, is being used to really engage audiences. In particular, the Worcester Arts Council has done a tremendous job using their Instagram to show love to local artists, provide updates, and highlight their council members through their “Meet the Council” campaign. Lisa Malo, member of the Worcester Cultural Council, said, “The #WorcesterLovesArtists ‘virtual gallery’ thing we are doing is getting a lot of love and appreciation from artists — many DMs of gratitude, which is really nice. It’s a small way we can highlight their work on our platform.” Give them a follow @worcesterartscouncil!

Instagram post by the Worcester Arts Council featuring their virtual gallery

Sharing Local Offerings

Most organizations and individuals at this time are putting together a wide variety of resources for the communities they serve that can be found on their websites and social media channels. However, it can be challenging to find a list of updated cultural offerings at this time.

We wanted to highlight those involved with the Nantucket Cultural District as well as Nantucket Cultural Council member Emma Young, for putting together a resource page of online resources offered by cultural institutions on Nantucket. These include videos, live classes, art prompts, online learning resources, and more.

Creating Public Art

Amidst closures and quarantines, how do you continue to make art, especially interactive art? Karyn Alzayer, artist and Chair of the Everett Cultural Council, created a project called, “Healing Hands” where anyone could participate from the safety of distance.

Step-by-step instructions for making a “Healing Hand”

“We’ve all been thinking about how much our hands can carry germs these days that it’s easy to forget they are also vital, powerful parts of ourselves that we use to connect, create, communicate, and console. I wanted to create a project to help us feel connected to one another through this difficult time. I thought there would be no better way to do that than through our hands,” said Karyn. She’s collecting submissions for the duration of the emergency declarations, and plans on putting the finished piece on display.

Providing Virtual Experiences

In addition to cultural institutions, such as the Springfield Museums and the Berkshire Museum, offering virtual tours of their spaces and exhibits, festivals and public events are also moving online.

Amherst Arts Night Plus is Amherst’s monthly art walk providing a free, cultural experience to the community. In April they are making this event accessible through the comfort of your own home. In partnership with local media network, Amherst Media, this televised “art walk” will consist of a series of interviews with local artists who have exhibited in Amherst galleries since November 2019. You can tune in on April 2, from 5-8pm.

Innovating Our Medical System

As we’re hearing about the shortages of protective gear for health workers, creatives and fabricators are coming together to fill in that need. In Massachusetts, we are seeing members of local makerspaces such as The Makery (Brookline), Artisan’s Asylum (Somerville), and Lowell Makes (Lowell) developing open-source designs and making protective gear (masks, face shields, gowns, respirators, and ventilator valves) for those working in the health sector. What we’re seeing locally at our community workshops is also part of a global effort to mitigate the crisis.

Artists who utilize 3D modeling software and digital fabrication tools make up a portion of those who are working on these efforts. When asked about the role of artists and creatives in a time like this, Boston-based artist and engineer Ted Sirota said, “Artists and creative people, in general, have a large capacity for problem-solving. Especially in cases where costs need to be kept low, and materials are scarce. They are used to thinking outside of typical constraints.”

3D digital visualization of an open-source respirator by Ted Sirota

If you are seeing others in your community use technology in creative ways, send your stories to Timothea Pham.

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