From Circles and Ciphers.

April 2, 2020; Block Club Chicago

In a matter of weeks, arts and cultural nonprofits across the globe have found new ways of making performances, collections, and programs accessible—at least online—to constituents. While museums offer virtual tours and performing arts groups stream archived performances, one emerging trend is to offer more hands-on artmaking opportunities to help people in lockdown or quarantine to cope with and make sense of their COVID-19 experiences.

Nonprofits, individual artists, and even groups of neighbors are finding ways to maintain physical distancing while challenging each other to get creative, to share their art, and to actively participate in collective artmaking. Here are some of the best examples we’ve seen so far:

  • In the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, Circles & Ciphers, which describes itself as “a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization,” has challenged residents to “channel their feelings on the coronavirus outbreak into works of art.” Among the types of entries being accepted for the #SocialDistanceChallenge are poems, freestyles, visual art, songs, spoken word, dance, and TikTok or other short videos. Prizes will be awarded to those entries deemed to have “the best impact on spreading positivity and awareness.”
  • The Getty Museum in Los Angeles issued a call for people to use household objects (as well as housemates and other living creatures) to recreate artistic masterpieces from the world of visual art. As reported last week in the Washington Post, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have been flooded with wildly creative knock-offs and reinterpretations of classic paintings.
  • British musician James Sills, already known for bringing groups of people together for communal singing gatherings, is now leading weekly virtual gatherings under the name of “The Sofa Singers.” For an article in The Telegraph, Sills described the 45-minute gatherings as “part-house party, part-singalong, part-choir.” Pipes a little rusty from being isolated? Sign up here.
  • Philadelphia-based nonprofit BalletX, which had to postpone its spring performances, is now streaming all of its dance and fitness classes—for beginners through more advanced levels—via Instagram Live.
  • Online writing courses and virtual readings and book tours abound. But for those who just want to try and write down how they’re feeling or what they want to remember from this most unusual and worrisome time, author Suleika Jaouad has started a project called The Isolation Journals. Anyone can sign up for free to get a daily journal-writing prompt each day in April.
  • In Fort Sill, Oklahoma, one family that already had a habit of making art together has apparently started a new neighborhood trend in window art, as reported by ABC affiliate KSWO.

Each of these new initiatives is, in its own way, a creative response to this global crisis we are living through together. And while even a small dose of artmaking may help people who don’t normally see themselves as artists to pass the time and let off a little steam, artists and educator Louis Netter suggests there’s even more at stake here. Writing last week for Fast Company, Netter had this to say about why art matters so much just now:

People are dying, critical resources are stretched, and the very essence of our freedom is shrinking—and yet we are moved inward, to the vast inner space of our thoughts and imagination, a place we have perhaps neglected. Of all the necessities we now feel so keenly aware of, the arts and their contribution to our well-being is evident and, in some ways, central to coronavirus confinement for those of us locked in at home.

—Eileen Cunniffe