When the art world shut down last week after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended gatherings of 50 people or more to cease (a number that has since shrunk significantly), it was unclear what thousands of Denver artists and creatives would do in the short term. Although there were and will continue to be moments of intense hardship to this community and many others, there are plenty of individuals and organizations working hard to continue offering artistic things to the public in even more creative ways than before.
Virtual Museum and Gallery Offerings
One of the first waves of cancellations and shut-downs hit the art and culture community hard, shuttering most galleries, museums and exhibition spaces. Many of the most well-known national and international institutions started offering virtual tours, which led to a litany of articles listing all the places you could see virtually that, under normal circumstances, would cost money to witness or experience. It came with the hashtag #MuseumFromHome. Denver followed suit. Now, most of the city’s museums and galleries are offering something for the virtual visitor.
Not all of the virtual offerings are new, but they are all emphasized with more gusto than before. Clyfford Still Museum links to its online collection boasting more than 2,500 pieces and to the 360-degree virtual tour. Navigating to the home page of the Denver Art Museum (DAM) brings you face-to-face with a large announcement that reads “temporarily closed” but above and beneath that banner there are links to more information and the online collection. In the Creativity Resource enclave of the DAM’s website, a backlog of videos from artists and curators could provide enough content for someone quarantined for a year.
New adaptations for the virtual visitor include a guided video tour of an exhibition at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities; an uploaded catalog of previous shows at Leon Gallery; highlighting “artists of the day” on Understudy’s Facebook page; IGTV episodes filmed by artists represented by the gallery K Contemporary called “Inspired by Art.” These are only a few examples, as dozens of art galleries and museums figure out how to get through this sudden and unexpected closure. Check out your local gallery online to see what they might be offering for the virtual visitor.
Artists Helping Artists
In these times, it’s important for communities to work together even if they can’t actually be in each other’s presence. When museums and galleries closed down, so too did the opportunities and gigs that keep the lights on for artists and creatives. Some people live paycheck to paycheck, but many artists live commission to commission, which is even more volatile because the amount expected always changes dramatically.
With the dearth of performances, gallery shows and other events growing, Denver artists started working on campaigns to help each other out. The Denver Metro Area Relief Fund was organized by a group of five creatives to help artists pay for pressing bills or other needs; the Colorado Artists Talents and Skills spreadsheet was designed by performance artist Amber Blais so her peers could find work with their other life skills; the Colorado Comedy Relief Fund was started to help comics who no longer have audiences.
The inspiring part is that the Denver art community proved it wasn’t going to sit around and wait for help to be delivered. Other cultural organizations responded quickly to the growing panic, with an IMAGINE 2020 Artist Assistance Fund from Denver Arts & Venues and the RiNo Support Fund for artists and businesses in the RiNo Arts District. RedLine Contemporary Art Center dedicated an entire section of its website to resources for artists, creatives and educators including a survey to better understand and respond to the needs of artists affected by COVID-19.
One of the downsides to canceling art events and outings is the lack of uplifting content for the rest of the population to entertain themselves with. People consume creative content produced by independent artists and freelancers every day en masse and look to it for an escape from worries and fears. Some local artists took the sudden lack of income as an opportunity to do uplifting activities to not only help themselves, but also to help others through this time.
The same performance artist who started the Colorado Artists Talents and Skills spreadsheet started a Facebook page called “Tarot By Amber” where she virtually reads tarot cards. Some of her readings are free to watch while a small menu shows the price for her individual tarot readings.
Boulder-based artist Debbie Clapper, who creates both studio work and murals, started sending her mail list subscribers a downloadable coloring book page every day with a design she drew herself.
Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre finds clever things to do each week in his neighborhood. The first week he did it he created a free poem giveaway outside of his house to any passers-by. The next week he put face masks on some of the historic statues in parks and near churches and snapped photos.
We could all benefit from taking a moment to appreciate the internet and the interconnectedness it offers us in a time like this. Social media and the digital platform has already proven to be a highly effective tool for artists and creatives trying to get their work out into the public eye. Now with every one ordered to stay at home, social media is the best gallery, museum, shopping mall and platform to talk about problems and solutions.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Denver has started a robust weekly schedule of social media themes and activities on its Instagram account. Every day of the week has a dedicated idea — Mondays are for gratitude and for sharing stories from followers about what they are grateful for, Tuesdays are for weekly challenges to “tap into our creativity,” Thursdays are for sharing artist interviews and chats with curators. A habit from pre-COVID-19 days, Self-Care Sundays, remains because it makes sense.
Local circus troupe Handsome Little Devils usually relies on in-person performances that surprise and delight audiences. But for now, they are hosting virtual cocktail parties where they are dressed in costume and they encourage the other participants and viewers to do the same. The first one occurred on March 21 and future ones will be announced via their Facebook page.
Mongolian-American artist Eriko Tsogo has been working on the Dream Yurt Project in Denver in collaboration with the Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center of Colorado. An actual historic yurt is usually erected and participants are asked to write down positive messages on ribbon and tie them to the yurt. With the social-distancing requirements, the in-person yurt activity which was debuted at the 2020 Womxn’s March can’t go on in the same way. Tsogo doesn’t want the momentum of the project to slow down during the shutdown, so she’s started an Instagram page where people can submit hopeful thoughts and wishes with photos that are then featured in the feed for the Virtual Dream Yurt.
How You Can Help
- Buy future tickets or gift certificates to museums, walking tours, etc.
- Donate to your favorite museum, gallery, nonprofit or person
- Commission artwork from your favorite local artist (and have it shipped to you)
- Volunteer or contribute to Help Colorado Now here