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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Doing Art In The COVID-19 Era

Kalamazoo Aerial Media

As with everything else in our communities, COVID-19 has brought the world of the arts to a standstill. Galleries are closed and music venues are silent.

At the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency in Vicksburg, artists are no longer residents. So, John Kern, the director of the residency, has found creative new ways to help artists survive the pandemic by giving them a virtual platform at the residency’s website.

A conversation with John Kern

“The changes have been really profound,” Kern says. “Our model prior to this all going on was to host artists here in Vicksburg to provide them with a charming little bungalow, and to have artists stay here anywhere from four weeks to seven weeks, and to really have an immersive experience with the local community.”

Credit Courtesy Rachel Toups
Courtesy Rachel Toups
Prairie Ronde Residency musician Rachel Toups

With the onset of COVID-19, Kern had to shut the residency down. It took a look at what others in similar situations were doing to help artists continue to bring their art to audiences.

“We were forced to postpone our spring session and suspend applications for our summer session,” Kern says. “We’ve explored what other art organizations are doing, and we’ve devised a way, sort of a hybrid, as many organizations are livestreaming, many artists have taken it on themselves to livestream events individually with links to some sort of payment service. We started to look at how we could do these things but to have a little more control over the content and to maximize the content so we can offer the audience more touch points to connect with the artist.”

Kern says the solution has been to reach out to a number of visual artists and musicians with whom the residency has had a previous connection and offer them a virtual platform. It pays them for 30 minutes of content. For visual artists, that might include a series of short video tours of their studios, discussions about how they manipulate a medium, or an instructional video. Musicians can record a 30-minute session.

“The challenge to artists is that, for all intents and purposes, they are performing to nobody,” Kern says. “And that is very awkward.”

Kern says people are discovering how important the interaction between artists and audience can be in any kind of exhibit or performance. He says the Prairie Ronde Residency program hopes to help overcome that challenge while proving a platform for virtual connections that might also bring artists some income.

Artist videos can be seen here and here.

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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