The show must go on at local art organizations
by ALEXANDRA RETTER
If comedy and food from Shakespeare’s time ever sounded like the perfect combination, today is a lucky day, because a recent video from Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) provides both.
Amid the pandemic, this video is one piece of virtual content offered by local arts organizations. Many of them spent months or even years planning events that had to be canceled or postponed at the last minute, but arts organizations are redirecting their energy and creative energy into online offerings.
Page Theatre Managing Director Theresa Remick began the process of collaborating with Leela Dance Collective to organize their events in 2018. She then worked with community partners over the last year to develop activities connected with the events which the people whom the partners serve would enjoy. When the pandemic began, the groups worked to move the activities online.
Mid West Music Fest (MWMF) Managing Director Abby Lee said all musicians for the Winona festival had been booked and conversations were happening with potential performers for the festival prior to the pandemic and shift to a virtual festival.
GRSF Marketing and Sales Director Eileen Moeller said it has been “a little devastating” to complete the work for the festival’s 2020 season and not see the plays produced with the performances being postponed.
“Everything I do all year round is to get ready for this, so as the person who does the marketing, I feel at a loss right now,” Moeller shared.
GRSF Managing Director Aaron Young said there has been sorrow and hope resulting from the festival’s 2020 season being postponed.
“We talked to all the company members, about 110, that we had engaged for this year, and we’ve made blanket offers to all of them to come back next season … everyone is optimistic and looking forward to next season,” Young explained. “It is still heavy to know the opening of the season was delayed for 12 months. That’s a heavy emotional burden on everyone.”
GRSF Associate Artistic Director Tarah Flanagan said committing to the company members and the work they had already done for this season was comforting amid the postponement.
“It didn’t feel like a defeat or a capitulation,” Flanagan said of the postponement. “It felt like making a really important decision about something bigger than a season of plays and honoring and respecting all that working moving forward.”
Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM) Executive Director Nicole Chamberlain-Dupree said being unable to hold some events that had been planned before the pandemic has not been ideal.
“The museum is many things for our community: a place for meditation, education, inspiration. Not being able to have Second Saturdays and Family Fest — both of which are to engage, invite, and share art with Winona families and friends — is disappointing; however, we have enjoyed thinking about how to engage people in the digital world,” Chamberlain-Dupree shared.
MWMF Creative Director Parker Forsell said being busy preparing for the virtual festival has not allowed him much opportunity to reflect on the cancelation of the in-person festival.
“I personally have not had a lot of time to think about it, because I think we tried to reorient it in such a small space of time that it’s been kind of the same nervous energy that’s there leading up to a festival anyway,” Forsell noted.
“I would agree that we haven’t had a chance to process the loss of the in-person fest, but I’m sure that will come,” Lee added.
Staff members at arts organizations are also wishing they could witness community members’ responses to art and help them connect through live art experiences in person.
“I miss hearing visitor’s connections — to works, to artists, to the museum, to Winona, to the arts,” Chamberlain-Dupree said. “Personal stories are the best and hearing them from visitors who are so moved from something they saw brightens my day.”
Remick said it is difficult to truly recreate live art online.
“When you have a group of people together, there’s an energy you feel … if you see a beautiful performance, you may feel moved. The person next to you may also, and then you have a connection,” Remick stated. “Being able to share in a source of beauty and joy in the world is something I miss.”
As they look to the future, staff members at arts organizations are facing uncertainty about what programming may look like moving forward and waiting to see how the pandemic and social distancing protocols progress.
“I would anticipate for the arts it will be a long road,” Remick said. “It’s been devastating to the field as a whole to see months and years of work evaporate, and I think we’ll have to think of new ways to work with multiple layers of planning so you can respond and deliver programs in an alternate way.”
Young noted that GRSF does not want to encourage people to come together in large groups too soon.
“The last I heard is that they think the social distancing is going to continue through the summer, and we think that as long as there’s social distancing in place, the ability to gather to see a play in the same room is pretty difficult,” Young said.
In the meantime, arts organizations are providing virtual content, and their staff members are appreciating remotely connecting with community members and exploring new ways for people to interact with one another about art.
“Facebook Live allows people to be able to share that [event] with friends even at later date, which isn’t something you can do at a normal festival situation,” Lee said.
MMAM Assistant Curator of Education and Exhibitions Dave Casey stated that social media engagement can help inspire staff members at this time.
“If you take 20 seconds to write comment on something — it reminded you of your visit here or the home town where you grew up — those comments keep us going” Casey said.
The Page Theatre is using digital platforms to share the Leela Dance Collective’s traditional Kathak dance and to share tap dance with the project SPEAK. Virtual events this week range from a panel discussion about women in dance, to an introduction to Kathak for dancers, to a performance.
The Page Theatre will also host the Driftless Dance Festival online May 1-3. Virtual events will include hip hop, body-mind integration and a Winona dance showcase.
More information about the Page Theatre’s online events may be found at pagetheatre.org.
MWMF’s at-home festival will take place May 8-9, with over 50 artists performing. A digital listener’s guide will list partner businesses who are open for take-out, as well as the artisans who had planned to be at the festival’s vintage and artisan markets. The streaming lineup and additional information about the festival may be found at midwestmusicfest.org.
GRSF postponed the performances that were planned for the 2020 season until 2021. Staff members are working on ways to engage with the community virtually and thinking through different manners in which their education programs could be provided, such as distance learning.
To interact with the community, staff members recently posted a “Shakespeare’s Test Kitchen” video on GRSF’s YouTube Channel.
GRSF aims to make other videos in the future. For instance, the festival invited community members to send in videos of themselves discussing what they enjoy about Shakespeare, from attending GRSF to Shakespearian language, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Community members may also engage with GRSF through their Facebook page and YouTube channel: www.facebook.com/GreatRiverShakes and www.youtube.com/user/GreatRiverShakes.
MMAM is providing virtual content at www.mmam.org. Online museum-goers can look at highlights from MMAM’s American and European collections, watch videos of staff members discussing several of their favorite paintings at the museum and take online audio tours. They can also enjoy a virtual version of a photography exhibition, explore entries in the MMAM Art Stream blog and find activities to do at home to recreate the museum’s Second Saturday event.
Local artists: challenges and inspiration
by CHRIS ROGERS
For some local artists, the coronavirus pandemic has brought financial stress, canceled gigs, and projects put on hold, but also some inspiration.
Since the new coronavirus pandemic forced Winona jewelry artist Jovy Rockey to close her store, she said sales have dropped by 75 percent. “Most of all it has been overwhelming to kind of scramble and try to figure out how to still make a living,” Rockey stated.
Like musicians turning to live-stream concerts and virtual tip jars, online revenue has suddenly become crucial to Rockey’s livelihood as an artist. However, selling things online isn’t effortless. It might sound easy, but taking attractive photos of jewelry pieces and getting them listed online takes a lot of time, she said. Rockey has also been spending more time making unique, unusual designs to attract online buyers’ eyes and give return customers a reason to spring for a new purchase. “I’m making designs I’ve never made before. I’m making more one-off pieces so people are more interested in buying rather than just seeing the same thing over and over again,” she explained.
Like many local artists, Winona writer and visual and performance artist Mai’a Williams makes her living from multiple sources of incomes. “Some of that work definitely dried up because [clients] themselves lost funding or don’t have time,” she reported. A conference where she was slated to speak this summer was canceled, which means missing out on opportunities for book sales and networking, as well as the speaking gig itself, she noted.
Similarly, some of the art festivals where Rockey normally sells her work have been canceled or are up in the air, but online sales have been a lifeline. “I hope that trend will continue because they say Minnesota will reopen to the public, but I don’t see myself going back to normal right away,” she stated. “I have an autoimmune disease. So I’m not as high risk as others with autoimmune diseases, but I still don’t have a fully-functioning immune system,” she explained. “It’s pretty nerve-wracking to think about people coming in [to the gallery].” She continued, “This whole year is going to be completely different and probably going into next year, and I don’t know what that means for me as a business.”
“I have basically shut down the music business aspect of my life during this time,” said Winona musician Jason Ziebell, who does not rely on music for his primary income. “I was in the process of launching a new project and that has been put on hold for now.”
However, Ziebell will be playing, under the stage name Jaybone Bell, in his first virtual concert on May 9 during Mid West Music Fest’s at-home festival. “That will be a new experience for me, and I am excited,” he stated. “It will be interesting to see how that all feels.”
While there’s no way to hear the audience singing along, Williams said virtual shows have their advantages. “Sometimes you see a show on a screen and you see it in person and it’s almost like two different shows, two different experiences, but I’m not sure the live show is always the better one,” she said. “Being in a large audience of people, as someone who’s relatively short, I can’t see over a whole audience of people … I can’t get a sense of everything around me, and sometimes I really like stopping to appreciate the details someone put so much work into.” Virtual performances also ensure people who might not be able to make it to a show for health or mobility reasons can enjoy the work, too.
When COVID-19 subsides, there may be a trove of creative work artists will be waiting to share. “There are some multimedia events that I’m prepared to do and I’ve been working on even more during the quarantine that I’d really like to showcase,” Williams said. Some of that can happen virtually, but when it comes to planning in-person shows, she stated, “The when of it is really hard to talk about right now.”
“The live shows that follow this pandemic will surely be epic,” Ziebell stated. “The release from the stress we have all felt through this crisis will be immense and transformative. I think we all can connect with the change this pandemic has had to our collective consciousness. Things we took for granted six months ago will be recognized in a new light, and I think the arts are a big part of that.”
People need art to help them find meaning, Williams said, and there is some meaning to found in this pandemic. “The coronavirus and the way that it’s global has made it really clear that what happens in Wuhan, China, really matters in Winona,” she said. For Williams, personally, the stay-at-home orders have been bearable, in part because she has lived under lockdowns before: in Egypt during the Arab Spring, in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Other parts of the world deal with restrictions and shutdowns more regularly, and, she said, “The U.S. is feeling it this time because viruses don’t care about your nationality.” Williams added, “I think it can give us a kind of compassion for people who live under these conditions way more frequently.”