Artists develop unique ways to showcase work during pandemic

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DRIVE-THRU ART Photographer Marisa Duran (left) and Jennifer Laine of the San Benito County Arts Council prepare for the debut of "Compassion and Courage: Our Frontline." Submitted photo

With Covid-19 changing how everything is done, everyone has to find ways to “get creative” in order to do activities that were once taken for granted.

That might include ordering dinner from a local restaurant and picking it up outside its doors. For office employees, no longer sitting desks apart, they now connect through video conferencing apps. The closure of bars has even forced the creation of virtual happy hours.

Thankfully for artists, getting creative is what they live for, and they have jumped to the task over the past couple of months.

Terms such as “drive-thru” and “virtual” have experienced a resurgence as of late. And this describes exactly what many artists are doing nowadays.

Gallery 1202 in downtown Gilroy, for instance, temporarily shuttered its doors in March once Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order went into effect. But that hasn’t stopped the art from being enjoyed by the public.

Director Emily McEwan-Upright said the gallery has been posting its exhibits online, where viewers can scroll through the work at their own pace and at any time of the day or night.

“The online exhibit response has been good for the reach we currently have, and our resources,” she said. “Since we are a smaller, newer gallery, we have not set up virtual tours of the exhibitions. However, we posted videos of the current exhibition that is up, and have gotten some great feedback and have sold a couple of pieces to out-of-state collectors.”

McEwan-Upright said internet sales have increased, as have the frequency of the gallery’s newsletters, which share news about what its artists have been doing.

Artist Amy Smith of Los Angeles, for instance, is participating in Artshare LA, where artists decorate shuttered storefronts. Natalie Ciccoricco has created a series of work from things she has found on outside adventures with her toddler.

“Many of our artists at Gallery 1202 are coping by producing a lot of work or working in the community to uplift during the pandemic,” McEwan-Upright said.

McEwan-Upright herself, meanwhile, has had more time to dedicate to her own artwork, thanks to her family’s move into a new house, where she has a studio for the first time in three years.

Gallery 1202 plans to reopen in June, McEwan-Upright said. While special events will be postponed to 2021, operations at the gallery, being a low-traffic destination, will likely not change much, she added.

She said the gallery will be evaluating the demand for live performances in the future.

“We have the ability to do seating six feet apart, but I’m not sure how comfortable the locals will be with attending something like this,” McEwan-Upright said. “As always, we as a business have to make sure it is financially feasible with the lower capacity to even host something like this. The art will not stop, though. We have a full line up of great shows through the summer and fall, including a solo show of local artist, Whitney Pintello, who has been working on a new series during the quarantine.”

Heidi Jumper of the San Benito County Arts Council said the pandemic has allowed artists time to focus on projects they had on the back burner.

“These same artists have also been adapting and transitioning their focus with an evolving market and audience in mind,” she said. “We have artists that are creating smaller scaled artworks that can more easily shipped with offerings that can be sold for lower price points.”

Artists have also taken the opportunity to develop their websites and social media accounts.

“Additionally, we’ve seen opportunities to take virtual art lessons, Zoom dance classes, and to participate in online community art-based campaigns,” Jumper said. “It’s been inspiring to see so many stories and examples of creativity and innovation both within our San Benito County arts community and beyond.”

In Hollister, photographer Marisa Duran got people outside in small, isolated groups to experience a unique way to view art.

Duran teamed up with the San Benito County Arts Council to organize the drive-thru digital art installation titled “Compassion and Courage: Our Frontline.” The exhibit rotated through different neighborhoods over the course of three nights, May 15-17.

The display highlighted Duran’s photos of those who were still required to work under the shelter-in-place order. During the early days of the pandemic, Duran began photographing closed parks, schools and other places, but found many people who had to keep working, “even though we were not supposed to be working.”

“I was really curious about what those who were still working thought about that,” she said. “I photographed my mailman, my garbage truck driver and others in our community who were out, typically in service industries—those on our community’s frontline, because I think they deserve recognition for their compassion to keep working so that the rest of us could shelter comfortably.”

Duran said she was inspired by a story she read about light artist Gerry Hofstetter, who had been projecting images of flags of the nations hit hardest by Covid-19 on the side of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

“The effect was beautiful, and I wondered if we could project some art here in town that was reflective of our community’s experience,” she said.

Duran collaborated with staff from the San Benito County Arts Council as well as the California Arts Council to make her project a reality.

The result was very well-received.

“Every night, attendees cheered when they recognized a frontline worker,” Duran said. “It was heart-warming to see children admire their parents’ images. One person said that she thought there was good representation of the many types of workers we have here in our town.”

Jumper said it’s been an exciting time for the Arts Council.

“I’m really proud, as an organization, how we’ve been able to explore innovative ways to present community accessible programming as well as to provide platforms for artworks that cannot currently be shown in traditional venues,” she said. “From our Zoom Visual Art Classes, to virtual and outdoor exhibitions, to online poetry readings and video arts tutorials, it’s been stimulating to see how this new direction has helped us develop even more impactful relationships with our greater and growing San Benito arts community.”

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