The Art Council goes “outside the walls” during the pandemic

Over the summer, after Kalyn Fuller agreed to be the art teacher for the 1,600 Columbus Municipal School District elementary students for the upcoming school year, she told her husband that she worried about how students would get art supplies – or school supplies in general.

Many students would learn at home, and even those who attended school in person were taking online art classes from their classrooms to minimize movement in buildings and help curb the spread of COVID-19. In previous years, when Fuller taught art only to elementary Joe Cook students, she had simply asked the students to use the supplies in her classroom.

This is where the Columbus Arts Council – with the help of the Columbus Exchange Club and the Junior Auxiliaries – came in. Jan Miller, Executive Director of the CAC, had contacted CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat to provide boxes full of art supplies to every Cook student.

(Labat) said, “If you do this, if we could do it for the whole district, every kid in elementary school, we would meet the standards (social distancing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and we wouldn’t we wouldn’t have to worry about how they were going to stock up, ”Miller told members of the Columbus Exchange Club, which helped kick off the project, at its weekly meeting Thursday at the Lion Hills Center. “I said, ‘OK, I’ll see what I can do. “

With the help of the Exchange Club, the Junior Auxiliary, and private donations, Miller and the Arts Council raised $ 10,000, enough to provide boxes full of crayons, scissors, glue and more. again to every elementary student at CMSD, as well as to students at West Lowndes Elementary School in the Lowndes County School District.

“I think I am also speaking on behalf of the school district when I say that we are incredibly grateful for this opportunity and for being one of the districts that has actually been able to use it,” Fuller said. “When the school closed in March, many districts across the state, their children and parents were struggling financially or… trying to recover from leave or losing their jobs due to a lack of of work. So it was a huge opportunity for us to be able to give back to our students and to our parents as well. “

While this was probably the CAC’s biggest project since the closure of schools and other aspects of public life in March, it was not the only one. Although they were restricted in some programs – Miller said there would be no musician performing at the Rosenzweig Arts Center in the city center until February 2021 at the earliest – the board has kept the others in place by maintaining social distancing or simply bringing art to people in their homes.

“Our goal has always been to provide art and music to our community,” Miller said. “Now we do it in a different way. We have to come out of our walls of our building and provide services as well as inside, and that’s difficult to do right now. “

“A free fall”

When the pandemic first hit in the spring, Miller told the Exchange Club, it plunged the arts council into a “downfall.”

“How were we going to stay relevant in a time when no one walked through the door?” ” she said. “Because the way we get donations and contributions, it’s people who walk through our door. “

She credited the Exchange Club with providing many of the funds and other help CAC needed to continue during the pandemic, including the start-up of the $ 10,000 grant used to fund the art boxes – with help from JA, who provided about $ 3,500 and packed the boxes to take to schools.

The Rosenzweig Arts Center, the ACC’s downtown gallery and theater, reopened on June 1. At first, Miller told The Dispatch, only 10 people were allowed into the facility at a time and visitors were given hours ahead. Soon, however, she realized that the building could legally accommodate 25% of its capacity, which opened the main and lower levels to around 70 people at a time.

Since then, Miller said, art galleries have returned and the board has once again welcomed organizations that use the building for regular meetings and practices, such as the Suzuki Strings Orchestra, whose members stay six feet away. ‘from each other when practicing downstairs.

“I’ll never forget in my life the first day they came back after COVID, and those little fiddlers out there doing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’…” Miller said. “And I was like, ‘Ah, they’re back.'”

The CCA has also truncated its annual summer arts camps to a single Academy of Fine Arts. Eleven students aged 8 to 11 participated in the program, which focused on visual arts in the morning and dance and theater in the afternoon, Miller said. Next year, she hopes to offer weeklong camps for art and theater.

The theater and the upstairs stage are the only part of the building the ACC can’t use, Miller said, because there isn’t enough room for a socially distant crowd to watch the performances. Thus, the theatrical and musical performances are for the moment suspended.

Art during the pandemic

For some, art has been a way to cope with the stress and boredom of containment and other hardships during the pandemic. Ralph Null, a Columbus resident whose art hung in the Rosenzweig this month, said he had done a handful of paintings here and there over the years, but it had become his escape route during the pandemic.

“I just went to my studio everyday and painted because life was boring otherwise,” Null said. “You couldn’t go anywhere. “

This was the inspiration for the 180 paintings he ended up donating to the art gallery, which he all painted during the pandemic. He went from landscapes to representations of plants and flowers – a nod to his career as an artist of floral arrangements – to more abstract pieces.

“Some mornings I go to the studio and forget I was there and realize it was 3 am, I was hungry and my coffee had gone cold sitting on the table. So it went well, “he said.” The psychological drug for me the whole time has been painting. “

Each of Null’s pieces was available for purchase and Miller said he would donate half of the proceeds to the arts council.

Which is good, she said, because the success of the art boxes for elementary school students has encouraged Miller and his employees to get involved in more outreach programs during the pandemic.

Their next plan is to partner with the YMCA, also located downtown, to offer free art classes to homeschooled students who participate in activities there.

“We’re going to have free classes for homeschoolers and they’re going to come with us, and we’re going to have an art day with the arts council,” she said. “… We will pay for all art supplies when they come and we will provide the art teachers. “

With the support of the community, she said, she hopes that everything can return to normal and that the CAC can continue its outreach programs and support for local artists.

“We are so committed to supporting our artists and musicians that we work hard to make sure they get everything they need to get their names back and start doing what they do best again,” he said. she declared. “We work every day with our artists and this is where we seek help to help us in our influence. Hopefully things will get back to normal. “

Norma D. Ross