Staying creative and solvent is a long game.

Spring is usually the craziest time of year for the Arlington Arts Center (AAC). Between juggling soccer schedules for her family and planning an annual fundraising gala, no one could blame Executive Director Holly Koons for dreaming of bears in blissful hibernation. But this year has disrupted everyone’s sleep and suddenly there’s no time to retreat from visibility.

By chance, luck, serendipity or fluke, AAC had decided, pre-virus, to move the gala event to the fall where it won’t be added to the endless list of cancellations and postponements. They may have dodged that bullet but still, it’s hardly business as usual. The galleries are closed, spring classes for adults and kids are cancelled and summer camps are a wish and a prayer at this point. And what about the artists in residence? Will thy even be able to access their studios? With or without admission fees, revenue streams are drying up. Organizations of all sizes always welcome donations, but even those fundraisers that are prompted by events and festive openings are less than predictable under normal circumstances.  Facing a pandemic halt to just about everything, what do you do first? How does a creative organization mitigate sudden losses?

First, and like almost everyone with business upended, it was time to put technology to work. Sometimes that’s easier said than done but for a small arts administration and curatorial staff who are moderately tech savvy, it meant jumping into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim. And maybe code.

Luckily AAC is taking resilience seriously, like a duck to water. First up, they posted quick and easy projects to their website. Where viewers might have looked for exhibit schedules, they are now looking for ways to stay sane and keep the kids occupied with creative activities. The website wasn’t built for projects per se, so adapting for that use was objective number one. Next came the challenge of replicating what visitors would naturally come to AAC for; hanging out with art. Big museums might have a lot of their collections and touring exhibits archived for easy access, but smaller arts centers don’t always have the resources for that level of research. So instead, AAC is developing live Zoom tours and pre-recorded interviews, behind the scenes looks at specific pieces of art and an ongoing series with resident artists. Still to come is an artist hosted ‘Drawing Happy Hour’. Cheers!

All of these may be extensions and new versions AAC’s core mission but none are more connected to the community than their partnership with social service organizations like Bridges to Independence. Hosting art clubs for kids and dropping off art kits is restorative and critical. It's a timely relationship that's bound to last beyond a crisis.

How will all that look for the duration? Like this organization is busier than ever.

Photo credit: Dawn Whitmore

Topic: Creative Economy
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