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Art in a time of pandemic

Artists, galleries, museums turn innovative during COVID-19

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Alamo Heights-area artist Augusta Brook Rosser believes the pandemic has spurred innovation, while galleries such as Artpace provide free Wi-Fi in the parking lot (inset). Courtesy photos

Many North Central artisans, museums and galleries struggling during the ongoing pandemic have found creative ways to stay connected with their audience.

While Olmos Park Terrace artists originally hoped to spend a November weekend welcoming visitors to their neighborhood as part of the 20th annual Uptown Art Stroll, the tour now may be online only.

“In the spirit of community safety and care for our neighbors, the decision was made to abstain from a face-to-face event and leave the door open for a virtual event, and possibly a date in the spring,” a press release from event organizers stated.

Planners hope to instead post photos of artists working in their studios and images of the art they have been creating during the pandemic.

The public may follow along at www.uptownartstroll.org or www.facebook.com/UptownArtStroll.

Indeed, public-art spaces have resorted to lessening capacity or taking only appointments to permit visitors. Many galleries are using their websites and social media to livestream workshops, tours and other programming.

The McNay Art Museum has safety protocols in place for visitors and staff alike.

Monthly activities such as First Fridays in Southtown are on hiatus. This year’s editions of Fiesta and Luminaria and their art-vendor opportunities are canceled.

Overall, there are some relief efforts, including a Facebook page encouraging support for local artists: https://www.facebook.com/groups/supportartistsinsanantonio/.

Businesses such as Artpace are giving back to the community with free public Wi-Fi in its parking lot at 513 N. Flores St.

San Antonio has authorized $2.6 million in federal relief funds for local, nonprofit arts organizations and individual craftsmen.

Roberto Treviño, the District 1 councilman, proposes creating an Art WORKS program, suggesting San Antonio boost its public-art investment by collaborating with builders to accommodate public art at new developments.

“Whether in the form of murals, sculpture or functional art, (art’s) existence in public places adds vibrancy to cities and strengthens community bonds,” Treviño said. “Public art also provides jobs.”

According to the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers, more than 60% of these individuals nationwide have become unemployed, and nearly 100% lost income.

Artist and resident Celine Casillas Thomasson said many need exhibits like Art Stroll and live shows “to make a go of it financially.”

“It’s really devastating. All those opportunities to make money are just gone,” she added.

However, local artists such as Thomasson and Augusta Brook Rosser believe COVID-19 has spurred innovation.

Rosser, an Alamo Heights-area resident, paints from home, promotes through social media and has sold works at AnArte Gallery.

“I think that being forced to be home not only opened up additional time to create paintings, but also inspired me to use social media to share my creative process in a way that I hoped would inspire others to create while also at home,” she said.

“Some videos simply show me painting while others demonstrate how to use tinfoil to create a heart or paint flowers on a grocery bag,” she added.

Because more people are housebound, they want to buy art to hang on the walls, Rosser suggested.

“I’m happy to provide a colorful and happy image for people’s homes. Even when things aren’t going so well, I try and focus on the positive in my art,” she added.

Thomasson said she barely worked at her craft during the outbreak’s first two months.

“You need to focus on this loss, and then claw your way back to a place where you think, ‘Now, I have room in my heart and my head, and I have energy to do this,” she said.

Thomasson and her colleagues said some creative people may struggle if they cannot afford web service at home, are not digitally savvy or don’t have a built-in audience.

Museums, too, have adjusted to a “new normal.” Area institutions such as the Witte Museum, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Briscoe Western Art Museum all installed safety and cleaning protocols to accommodate reduced guests.

Still, special events and regular public activities at these sites are postponed or canceled. The Briscoe also experienced layoffs.

Meanwhile, the McNay is proceeding with its long-range landscaping master plan, having added three outdoor sculptures.

“We have experienced lower-than-average attendance, as expected. However, we are seeing visitation slowly build week after week,” said Rachel Trevino, the museum’s communications and marketing head. “We have received feedback that visitors are enjoying ‘having the museum to themselves’ and being able to take in the art and the scenery of our grounds in a spacious and open environment.”

Other art organizations are going virtual to continue tradition. Blue Star Contemporary’s Red Dot Art Sale, set for Sept. 23, will feature a virtual augmented reality experience in which the viewer walks around the room to get a “feel” for being inside the Southtown art space.

The regular Red Dot exhibit can be viewed in person or online Sept. 23-Oct. 4.

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