Some people may think making art is and should always be a lonely pursuit. Julia Wake strongly disagrees.
"There’s usually a big focus on collaboration and community," says Wake, a master of arts student in the University of Winnipeg’s cultural studies program and the program director at Graffiti Art Programming.
So what happens when that community is scattered by physical restrictions? How can that sense of working together — and the mental benefits of that collaboration — persist while a virus stands in the way?
One year into the pandemic, Wake was interested in exploring those questions through a series called Creating with Care, which she curated with the university’s Gallery 1C03 and ran online throughout March.
In a normal year, the gallery’s programming would have been accessible for students and the university community. "With the move to virtual classes, students don’t have the opportunity to engage with art or artists in the same capacity," Wake says.
So, the series — which focused on easing uneasiness through self-care via art projects — took place in a virtual space, with local artists Leslie Supnet, Annie Beach, Hannah Doucet and Jessica Canard leading short workshops instructing participants how to make everything from animated GIFs to embroidered photographs. Each artist has a background in community arts and, like Wake, was forced to reinvent her approach for an online world.
"Many if not all of us working in community arts have spent the past year trying to reconcile the concept of collaborative, participatory and community-based programming with the arms-length reach with which we’re actually able to safely deliver programming," Wake says.
Instead of a scheduled time slot over Zoom, which students and staff (and — who are we kidding? — everybody) were understandably tired of, the workshops were held on Instagram, with participants able to check in and watch the 10-minute videos whenever they wanted.
The result was gratifying, Wake says, giving artists the ability to connect with others and vice versa, while also giving the opportunity to take care of themselves through art-making.
"Art really provides a tangible way of practising self-care," Wake says. "In this sense, it’s less about the final product and much more about taking the time to step away from daily responsibilities or anxieties, even for a short time."
It revealed to Wake it wasn’t necessarily required for workshop participants to be in the same place, or even to be participating at the same time, to make art together. It also reinforced the fact that for some, virtual barriers are just as significant in preventing participation in art as physical ones, an idea she’s seen through her work with Graffiti Art Programming; the organization has been supplementing virtual programming by distributing art kits, about 8,000 so far.
Today, Wake will discuss with Beach, a Cree-Saulteaux-Ukrainian visual artist and the assistant manager of Graffiti Art Programming’s Studio 393, the Creating as Care series with Free Press columnist Alison Gillmor as part of the First Fridays in the Exchange program.
The trio will reflect on the pandemic’s impact on community art programming and cultural institutions, mental health’s role in art, and how virtual programming has broadened horizons while also making obvious other barriers that exist in a digital art world.
For details on the free talk, visit facebook.com/FirstFridaysInTheExchange.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.