As the stay home, stay safe order swept across North Carolina, shuttering businesses until further notice, local arts centers, crafts schools and workshop facilities were faced with shutting down operations. After all, most art and craft lessons happen in person and in shared spaces. But for many such business owners, the need for revenue and the belief in art as a necessity during difficult times meant that hanging up the paint smock wasn’t an option.
“I’m not going to give up,” says Ginger Huebner, founding director of the Asheville-based Roots + Wings School of Art & Design. The facility, which offers preschool and after-school programming, semester classes and summer camps in three locations, lost 80% of its income overnight due to social distancing measures. But the Roots + Wings pivot to an online curriculum wasn’t a new idea.
“What’s ironic is that for the last year I’d been building up to have an online presence,” says Huebner, who was interested in marketing Roots + Wings programs beyond Western North Carolina. “I believe what we offer is incredibly unique, by talking about the process rather than the product.” The online classes also limit screen time, which will likely come as a relief to some participants who have tired of web-based meetings, communication and entertainment.
The challenge now, says Huebner, is how to get the new platform in front of interested artists and students.
The creative reinvention for Jessica Kaufman, owner of WAXON Studio in West Asheville, involved shifting gears from workshops to production. Quarantine began just as the batik and tie-dye business was coming out of its slow season. Kaufman had started booking classes again. COVID-19, she initially thought, would mark the end of WAXON.
But, two weeks in, she realized, “I have a giant shop full of beautiful fabrics and a sewing machine and nothing but time.” She began making protective face masks and shared them online to see if her friends might be interested. She sold 100 within a couple of days and decided to make the masks available to the wider public, selling another 100 within a couple of hours. At press time, four weeks into full-time mask-making, she’s processed more than 600 orders (including multiple masks per purchase) on Etsy.
“I haven’t mixed up any dyes or turned on the hot wax in months, but we are full-on producing cloth masks,” Kaufman says. “The cool thing is I’m using fabrics I’ve already made. … It’s amazing because I’m clearing out all the dusty corners of precious scraps I’ve held onto.”
She adds, “I’m so grateful and so stunned.” The boon to her business has allowed her to bring back an assistant and upgrade to a thermal label printer, among other positive developments.
Aurora Studio & Gallery also made a quick adjustment when founder Lori Greenberg realized those served by the Asheville studio’s art classes wouldn’t be able to attend in person. “Right away, when we realized we were going to close, [graduate intern Pax Cleary] and I spoke and we said, ‘Yeah. We need to at least call people weekly,’” Greenberg says. “We work with people who are fragile, and the trauma of being out in the community, not seeing your friends and not getting the support you need … for all of us is life-changing.”
Aurora Studio & Gallery, which celebrated its eighth anniversary in May, is “a supportive art space for artists who have been impacted by mental health needs, addiction or not being housed,” according to a press release. As a small entity, it has teamed with sister organizations, including Seek Healing (which provides support services to those recovering from addiction or trauma), through which Greenberg started leading an art group via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Another partner group is Youth Villages, which assists youths ages 17-21 who are aging out of foster care. “The youths had been isolated at home,” says Greenberg. She offered them a meeting through Zoom “because they’re more involved with technology and they’d want to see each other.” Youth volunteer Kyley Shurrona co-created that presentation.
And, after local artist Joyce Thornburg made a well-timed donation of art supplies just before quarantine began, Greenberg was able to put together “stress kits — packages of paints, brushes and canvas.” Works by members of Aurora Studio classes are available at an art auction on eBay (avl.mx/768). Proceeds benefit the program and the artists.
At the crossroads of creativity and mental health, Aurora Studio & Gallery “is not considered an essential service,” says Greenberg. “But in so many ways we are.”
She adds, “We’ll just take a little bit of a turn and whatever people need, we’ll try to meet people wherever they are.”
For all three makers and educators, keeping art available is important to the local economy and to the Asheville area’s need for creative outlets as part of recovery from COVID-19 and quarantine.
“Right now, we all need courage in the midst of needing resilience, which will equal creativity and connecting with others,” says Huebner. Roots + Wings has its Creative Institute offerings online and is taking things week by week.
Huebner continues, “I do believe we have to keep creating. We have to keep creativity in front of ourselves. We can’t afford to lose that.”