Atlantic Center for the Arts has continued to connect the arts to community health and demonstrate the relevance of creativity as we navigate the shifting landscape of society during the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of March, ACA successfully transitioned its community programs, led by our Artist Ambassadors, to the virtual platform of Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. All of these programs are offered for free to everyone.
This dramatically increased the reach of these programs from in-person groups of 10 – 20 people to 800 – 1,500 viewers for each video as they are broadcast. Workshops such as “Expressive Art Journaling” with Laura Bohn, “Heal and Reveal” with Heather Pastor, “Nature Sketch Club” with Bethany Bennett, and the live stream “Sound & Mediation” with Eve Payor have been especially successful in terms of connecting with a broader audience of our social media followers. Considering the target demographics for each program, ACA staff have scheduled video content on the social media platform that best reaches each audience; for example, YouTube and Instagram reach a younger and more ethnically diverse tech-savvy audience. Both Facebook and YouTube offer integrated closed-captioning, which is a welcomed extension to ACA’s goals for greater accessibility. All programs can be accessed after the live stream/video premiere, which has further increased the reach of these events.
The quality of these presentations is on par with other major arts organizations across the county, and each artist is given guidelines for digital content creation. ACA staff have worked closely together to produce these videos by coaching the artists, monitoring the production process, engaging viewers in the comments section, conducting pre/post participant surveys for evaluation, and reviewing artist (field) notes. Workplace dynamics have seen greater unity in cross-departmental collaboration and an intense sense of urgency to work towards the shared goal of continuing to provide our unique programming in Arts & Wellness to the community. Although the uncertainty of the pandemic has caused heightened emotional stress among staff, as well as among artist ambassadors, ACA has encouraged a more open and compassionate culture of communication to grant patience, empathy, and supportive dialogue. Staff have worked together to schedule online programs with thoughtful consideration to avoid internet fatigue by consistently offering 1-2 weeknight and weekend workshops.
ACA staff and artists have been pleasantly surprised by the connections we have made internally and with the public due to this digital transition. The public feedback has been tremendously positive, with most participants eagerly awaiting the next workshop. These programs have filled a void during the “stay at home” order, without overwhelming the public with content. They have engaged patrons and connected with them in supportive conversations that have never taken place before on ACA’s social media platforms. This surge in online community engagement has been a breakthrough for ACA and will continue to be developed and promoted throughout the year. It has given the staff and artists a new outlook on the possibilities and reach of digital communications that amplify a shared experience.
A beautiful testimonial came from one of our Creative Caregiving participants working with Artist Ambassador Vicki Gross, music therapist, who said, “Vicki was very creative with the activities in our group Zoom call! For me, the calls helped break-up the stay-at-home time, and connected mom and I with our friends. It was nice to be able to answer the often-repeated question of ‘What is on our schedule today?’ with something besides nothing.”
In the fall of 2020, ACA will produce two events funded by the Pabst Steinmetz Foundation: the Arts & Wellness Symposium, and the Arts & Wellness Academy. Both events will be augmented by the use of digital technology to share resources online.
Nancy Lowden Norman