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Collaborations Reclaim a Sense of Community

by Mary Alice Franklin, ArtsNews Editor

Artists Katharine Dufault and Anki King collaborated on the USPS Art Project. The artwork was created by Dufault. (images courtesy of Katharine Dufault)
Artists Katharine Dufault and Anki King collaborated on the USPS Art Project. (images courtesy of Katharine Dufault)

Many artists thrive in shared creative spaces – but the appearance of COVID-19 caused most of them to shelter in their homes. Along the way, several arts organizations have provided opportunities for collaboration, offering meaningful approaches for reclaiming a sense of community. These projects are providing a strong outlet for artists, who are cut off physically but connected creatively.

In August, Pelham Art Center’s first physical exhibition since lockdown will showcase works from USPS Art Project, which the center embraced during the pandemic. This project encourages collaboration between a pair of artists. Each begins a postcard-sized artwork, and then mails it to their partner who completes the work. Artist Katharine Dufault explains: “I am used to working alone in the studio and socializing at gallery openings, exhibitions and art fairs… so the idea of collaborating with other artists during the self-isolation period became a great way of maintaining contact with members of the arts community.”

The Community Writing Project at Blue Door Art Center incorporated collaboration into its programming when poet-in-residence Golda Solomon decided to transition the center’s ArtSpeak/From Page to Performance series to a virtual space. For the resulting program, Solomon encourages anyone to submit writings and musings, offering to create ‘cento’ or ‘patchwork,’ poems, which are composed of lines from poems by other poets. Participants also get together to share works, or works-in-progress, in a non-judgmental gathering via Google Meet. In the end, the works are assembled in a shared issue that is offered online. Soloman says: “I believe that we are all artists, all writers and all poets,” adding that with collaboration comes “a shared creative energy.”

Hudson Valley MOCA (HV MOCA) and Studio Theater in Exile (STIE) are slowly unwrapping Climbing the Walls, a project for which artists across all disciplines were asked to contribute works that respond exclusively to COVID-19 – a call that was ultimately opened up to include the recent protests as well. The submissions, which include monologues, poetry, photography and more, are then combined to make what Jo-Ann Brody, who does graphic design and installation for HV MOCA, describes as “a more powerful statement.” She explains: “Some of the backgrounds for the readings are the submitted art. Meanwhile, submitted music becomes the soundtrack for performances or images. We have interwoven [submissions], creating a collaborative online, devised performance piece.” STIE Co-Founder and Artistic Director Mara Mills describes: “Theater is collaborative – it uses all of the arts to tell a story: the set, lights, script, costume…. When COVID-19 came, with quarantine soon after, I realized that theater as we know it will have to adjust… So the integrative aspect of theater became the format [for Climbing the Walls].”  As a result, a collective artistic voice of the “now” emerges. The co-created art becomes a lasting emblem of its time.

A version of this article first appeared in the July issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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