Cultivating Community Through Art Without Leaving the House

May 27, 2020

By Claude Smith-Kenny

Claude is an artist, educator, and kindness punk based in Indianapolis, IN. They volunteer with many local organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana, Indiana Futsal, and Girls Rock! Indianapolis. They specialize in working with underserved youth, especially those that are LGBTQ+, and have taught workshops and classes on LGBTQ art and history.

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For artists and art lovers, getting together to make or appreciate art are among the most meaningful ways to bond and experience a sense of belonging.

I always look forward to First Fridays, a popular night here in Indianapolis and in cities all over the U.S. where communities flock to local galleries, makerspaces and studios to celebrate, talk about and buy art from the makers of our communities. Narrow hallways of historic buildings turned galleries fill to capacity with brushing shoulders and excited hugs. Rented downtown studios billow over with enthusiasts gathered to watch artists create work in real-time. Sidewalks of Arts neighborhoods become busy highways for the foot traffic of artists showing off their quirky outfits in the unspoken interactive fashion show that is First Friday. And that’s just one night of the month.

Realistically, every night is an opportunity for some sort of artistic gathering, some smaller than others. Of course, these celebratory evenings have been put to a halt due to the pandemic, and so many of us are feeling a massive hole in our spirits where these gatherings used to lie. And while nothing can truly replace them, there are things that artists everywhere are doing to build a sense of community and connection without putting our health in danger.

Alexa Adamson is a Ceramicist who runs her own Studio, Rumple Willow Ceramics, on the eastside of Indianapolis, where, along with making work with her best friend, she offers private lessons and workshops for local businesses. When this was no longer an option, she had an idea- a Secret Quarantine Art Exchange. The exchange started on a Facebook group called “Art We Made During Quarantine,” where Adamson set up an Elfster page for interested parties to sign up. Monetary values and timelines were set, and within a couple weeks, dozens of local artists were shipping out and dropping off care packages of art they’d made in exchange for receiving someone else’s art. Folks shared their joy along with images of the art they had been given all over social media, and the boost in morale amongst participants was evident.

“I wanted to start the Secret Quarantine Art Exchange just as a simple way to connect to other artists,” Adamson shared. “We’re all stuck at home making things, so why not do some good old fashioned trading? Plus, I really like getting the good kind of mail.”

She hopes that others will be inspired to build off of this exchange and continue to share the love through art.

Another incredible way that local artists are keeping the community active is through virtual shows on social media. Spring 2020 graduates of Art Schools across the world were denied the rite of passage of a Senior Thesis Exhibition, a bow at the end of a studio art degree path to plan and execute a cohesive, professional art show out in the community exhibiting their senior thesis work. While being denied this experience is inarguably heartbreaking, leaders of PRIMER, the Painting Club at Herron School of Art and Design, took charge by coordinating an Instagram Thesis Show, where they highlighted all graduating Painting Students with day-long account takeovers complete with biographies, artist statements, interactive Q & A sessions, and of course images of their work. One of the painters who organized this is Jocelyn Paul, who said that between the show itself and classwide zoom calls, the group of artists have managed to find some fun and reclamation of what could have been a total loss.

“At the start of the shutdown it was a kind of doomsday mindset,” Paul explained of her class, “this way we were able to show the world or work in some way.” Instagram Art Shows are now a popular way of exhibiting and curating art.

You don’t have to dedicate loads of time and effort in organizing a citywide art exchange to spread kindness through art, though. One great way to tell those you love that you’re thinking of them in a meaningful way that will make them smile is simple – handmade postcards!

I started making little 3”x 4” watercolor postcards a couple of art weeks into isolation. I thought especially of the people in my life who were isolated alone and/or especially vulnerable. Another activity lots of folks are doing is having virtual art get-togethers via Zoom, where painting or sculpting in your living room becomes a little less lonely when you have a friend across from you doing the same thing, even if it is through a laptop screen.

For so many of us – whether we’re “artists” or not – art, and the community that comes with it, are critical parts of our lives. These are just a few of the ways you can connect with others through art, but the possibilities are limitless.

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