For local creators, the pandemic has required flexibility, inspired soul-searching

Inside artist Tatana Kellner’s studio. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

It’s been called “artist’s time”—the enforced periods of pandemic-induced solitude that have allowed artists the opportunity to create without outside distractions.  For others, of course, the shutdown has brought economic hardship and isolation. Certainly, artists themselves have been affected in widely divergent ways. But one common denominator that emerges from conversations with half a dozen artists and people affiliated with arts institutions is that being resourceful has been essential to surviving and possibly thriving during this time. 

One example of an organization that’s been extraordinarily resourceful during the pandemic is the Center for the Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. After having to cancel all scheduled performances, the organization built an outdoor stage, where A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Chorus Line, and Songs for a New World were performed starting in early July, according to assistant artistic and managing director Kevin Archambault. In October the center hosted drive-in movies, with the films (specializing in Turner Classic Movies’ horror flicks) projected against the side of the building and viewers tuning in to the audio using their car radio station. Over the holidays the theater continued its 15-year tradition of scheduling A Christmas Carol with a live production situated outside on the loading dock; the performers held heat warmers and wore thick woolen socks to stave off the cold. In January the center began streaming shows, available live, pre-recorded or on-demand.

This month, it will resume performances on the outdoor stage. The venue also collaborates with another community theater company, County Players, based in Wappingers Falls: the two companies share programming on social media and lend each other costumes, and Christine Crawfis, president of County Players, is currently directing one of the center’s shows. “More art always equals more art,” said Archambault. 

Advertisement

PPP loans from the federal government and a generous donation from Stewart’s Shops, which funded the outdoor stage, have helped the company stay afloat, as did outdoor summer classes for kids on theater production, improvisation, dance, and voice. Nonetheless, “we’re 75 percent down in ticket sales and are hurting for sure,” said Archambault. “We’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and counting our change. It’s been important to bring arts to the community and not shut our doors. We’re surviving and we’re grateful.” The theater company plans to continue the outdoor and online performances this summer in the face of uncertainty as to when the theater will be open.  “We’re not only thinking outside the box, we’re throwing the box away.”

 

The Woodstock School of Art. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Across the river, Woodstock School of Art has also remained active. “The school is financially stable and has done quite well with online classes,” said Staats Fasoldt, a watercolor painter who’s taught at the school for many years and is co-president of WSA’s board of directors. He credits executive director Nina Doyle for “pulling the classes out of a hat,” with the school installing a small video set-up in Studio One for the teachers’ use. “We almost have as many students online as when we were open,” said Fasoldt. “We didn’t make as much money, but we’re all right.” 

One instructor, painter Peter Clapper, said he’s making more money now at the school teaching weekly online classes than he did pre-pandemic, thanks to the greater frequency of the classes and more students signing up.  But “it has its limits,” Clapper conceded. “It’s very challenging, sitting there looking at the camera for an hour talking. I would prefer to do the class in person.”

Fasoldt predicted that the online program would continue indefinitely, given that “some instructors are not ready to come back and a lot of people are still scared.” Plein air classes will resume this month—Fasoldt, who chose not to teach online, hopes to start teaching an in-person class outside starting in July—and WSA is installing advanced filtering devices in its HVAC system to ensure everyone’s safety in preparation for resuming indoor classes, he said. 

 

 

Lex Feldheim, who owns Kingston Ceramics Studio in the Shirt Factory, had to close completely for four months. “If it weren’t for the government money, I’d be out of business,” she said, noting that since reopening she’s had to reduce the number of people in the studio by 25 percent. “At first it was really terrifying, but then I got a PPP loan, which was forgiven, as well as a second PPP loan. I also received a $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster grant and an EIDL low-interest 30-year loan from the Small Business Administration,” she said. 

Feldheim said her pandemic precautions have eased the minds of students, and her clientele continues to grow. Plus, the relative lack of competition for other activities outside the house has helped her business. “I feel tremendous relief that we’re going to be fine,” she said. 

 

 

“It’s been a very anxious time. Making art makes complete sense,” says Rosendale artist Tatana Kellner. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Tatana Kellner, a Rosendale-based multimedia artist who co-founded Women’s Studio Workshop, was just beginning a month-long artist’s residency in Siena, Italy, in February 2020 when Covid broke out. A week after arriving, she returned home. “I grew up in Prague, and I remember when I was taught about the plague how they just closed the gates. There were no tourists and people were beginning to panic. You couldn’t find a mask or wipes. I felt like this is insane. My parents were Holocaust survivors and [this resonated with their stories of] shortages, trauma, and that kind of panic.”

Kellner has been teaching monoprint workshops to very small groups of students at D.R.A.W., the arts education program in Kingston, and has only taught in person. 

“It’s really about watching somebody do something and being there are at the moment of creation…also it’s getting inspiration from watching other students.” In terms of showing her work, however, online has substituted for in-person. She had an exhibition at a gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which was postponed and then posted online last September. “It was very unsatisfying, with no opening,” she said. “I felt like I was invisible, and seeing the work online was like looking at a reproduction.” She is participating in upcoming shows at the Hunterdon Art Museum, in Clinton, New Jersey, and the New York Public Library later this year, both of which will be open to the public. 

Some of her installations, photographic assemblages, drawings and artist’s books are direct responses to issues, including the Trump presidency, the Holocaust, the demise of newspapers and fracking for natural gas, so it was natural for Kellner to respond to Covid: over the course of three months, she made a series of black-and-white monoprints called “Quarantine,” which “deals with the issue of fear” and the anxiety of reading the daily updates on the number of deaths from Covid. “Past the double digits, we become numb, because it’s beyond our comprehension,” she said, concluding: “It’s been a very anxious time. Making art makes complete sense; you can find inspiration and solace in your work. On the other hand, it seems irrelative when people are starving and dying.”

 

Kevin Paulsen (file photo)

Kingston-based artist Kevin Paulsen has been busy throughout the pandemic, although many of the commissions he does for private homes and commercial spaces, which consist of his primitive-style murals, paintings and hand-printed wall coverings, initially were put on hold.  His main difficulty has been delays in getting supplies through the mail and not being able to work with his assistants during the lockdown. “Generally, I’ve been okay,” he said. “I sold paintings through galleries and had some work in stock. I was in the middle of a job on Nantucket when they locked down the island.” The ferry was still running so he was able to leave, returning “a few months later after protocols were put in place.”

“I’ve hardly left the studio,” he added. “I had a patterning project [hand printing done on muslin] and a mural, and some digital things are now coming to fruition. There’s a job out in LA but I haven’t visited the site. The way [the pandemic] affected me the most is I did a lot of drawings on paper, and only in the last few months have I started painting again.” If anything, his work has been prescient, given that “I already had a sublimated apocalyptic point of view.”  

 

Bassist Michael Bisio, who normally would have a busy schedule of touring and performing with the Matthew Shipp Trio—the widely acclaimed group, consisting of Bisio, pianist Shipp, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, has toured Europe and played at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to Kingston’s Lace Mill, where Bisio lives with his wife, Dawn Bisio—has had every performance canceled. His one continuous gig has been teaching a weekly class at Bennington College, which was online, then in person, then back to online, and now in person again. Having to teach online changed his method: he used to teach by ear and modeling, but since he found that impossible online, he instead wrote out exercises for his students. The success of the latter has altered his in-person teaching so that he now teaches a combination of both. 

Although his wife qualified for unemployment, he wasn’t eligible, so the couple had to rely on their savings to get through the pandemic. One unexpected bright spot was the many new recordings he’s made starting in January. One is with a French label and features Bisio, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, saxophonist Joe McPhee, and percussionist Juma Sultan, who performed with Jimi Hendrix and also resides at the Lace Mill. A new Matthew Shipp record was done for the ESP-DISK’ label and another for a Polish label, he said. 

Bisio also did a few live-stream performances, including two at Green Kill, the gallery space in Kingston in which owner David Schell “can work three cameras himself.” For each performance, people donate online, with the proceeds divvied up among the performers. “As grateful as I was for those opportunities, I don’t think online will replace performing in person,” Bisio said. “I play a very acoustic music. There’s a whole metaphysical aspect being in that place and feeling those vibrations. The audience is a big part of what I do.”

Advertisement

 

Robert Langdon, a poet and owner of Emerge Gallery and Art Space, located in Saugerties, has been busier than ever, focusing on selling the work of his artists online. He’s been curating monthly exhibitions at the gallery ever since it reopened last August and for each exhibition has hosted a virtual discussion with several of the artists and a curator tour, which is posted on his YouTube channel. He’s also featured the pieces in his shop on Artsy, the online art brokerage, which is supplemented by additional works by his stable of artists. This exposure has attracted buyers from all over the world: “I’ve worked with an art adviser in New York, who finds art for medical centers, and one in the UK,” he said. “I’m working with a couple of designers, and I’ve sold to France and Germany.” 

The online tours have been a wonderful way to engage the public, he said. Viewers can make comments during the live-streamed events, which are then archived and posted on the Emerge website.  Langdon plans to continue the tours after things return to normal. He also will host virtual readings by writers related to the artworks on display—in one such event, the writers were required to finish narratives depicted in the pieces—and looks forward to once again hosting these collaborations in person. He credits ShoutOut Saugerties, which hosts cultural events throughout the year in the village, with keeping the arts alive and will be collaborating with the organizers on its outdoor events this summer. 

As a small business, Emerge received $1,000 of federal money and Langdon “was shocked and thrilled and honored” when one of his artists launched a GoFundMe campaign. “It kept me going during the time I was closed,” he said. “The community saved me.” He’s also grateful that “my landlords were very generous and accommodating.”

 

The pandemic has caused musician Lara Hope to reflect “about what I really need to make me happy” and question all the time the band’s spent on the road, which “has caused me to feel somewhat disconnected from my community and the people I care about. I intend to change that moving forward.” (Photo by Dion Ogust)

On March 11 of last year, singer Lara Hope and her husband and bass player Matt Goldpaugh had just closed on their first home and were about to embark on a six-week national tour with their band, Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones, when the shutdown occurred. Since then, “we sure have had a lot of time to settle in and find some real grounding here,” Hope wrote in an email. Fans and friends stepped up to the plate by buying merchandise from the band’s website, which “got us through the first month until we were able to start collecting unemployment.” 

That same month, the award-winning roots rock and roll and rockabilly band started hosting live-stream performances on Monday nights on its Facebook page and YouTube channel, which continue to this day. It also participated in many other virtual events, including the Carole King Tribute produced by Bardavon/UPAC, another recent show produced by the musical director and conductor of the Golden Gate Symphony Orchestra, and the Great Upstate Musicians Showcase, a virtual contest the band won. Hope and Goldpaugh also had the time to learn how to record themselves and wrote an EP’s worth of pandemic-inspired songs, which were made into the album “Songs In The Key Of Quarantine” and released in July under their other moniker, The Gold Hope Duo. 

Hope wrote that during the Monday night performances she’s enjoyed reading the audience comments on her laptop and responding in real-time. “It’s been a great way to still feel connected while playing to a screen,” she wrote in an email. “One thing I’ll never get used to [online] is the lack of applause after a song.” On the plus side, “I love not having to drive anywhere and be able to put my pajamas back on as soon as we’re done playing. And I love that everyone watching has chosen to spend their time with us and are giving us their full attention. We’re not background music, like what sometimes happens when you’re playing in a brewery or a loud bar.” 

Nonetheless, “we are all itching for the chance to meet in person and see a real live rockin’ show, not the stripped-down version from my living room,” she wrote. On June 26, the band will play live at the Colony, in Woodstock, to mark the release of its new studio album, “Here to Tell the Tale.” (The album will be released on June 25. To order a copy and contribute to the album’s promotional costs, visit larahope.net.) Some of the Monday-night regulars plan to make the pilgrimage to the Colony, including a woman from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Hope wrote that the band plans to continue the live-streamed performances even after the pandemic is over to maintain the connection with people who aren’t local or can’t get out of the house. 

The pandemic has also caused her to reflect “about what I really need to make me happy” and question all the time the band’s spent on the road, which “has caused me to feel somewhat disconnected from my community and the people I care about. I intend to change that moving forward. Matt and I are currently looking to pursue additional income streams (I recently got my real estate license) so that we don’t have to be away from home quite as much and our shows can be focused more on the quality and less on the quantity.”

 

Kingston-based visual artist Patti Gibbons, who was a recipient of the 2020 Todd Samara Art Fund Award, has used social media and her website to sell her artwork, greeting cards, ornaments and book collages after all the regional craft shows she usually participates in got cancelled. Gibbons said she made less money but also put in significantly fewer hours and has since decided not to do the shows anymore. “Covid made me look at my time and what I value and where I want to go in life,” as a result of which “I’m shifting more to fine art and cards.” Gibbons also organized two Facebook-based workshops, one themed around Julia Cameron’s book, The Listening Path, and the other on breaking through barriers and moving forward in your art (for Gibbons, it’s painting on big canvases).  

“I’m more focused and get a little more enjoyment out of my surroundings,” Gibbons said, although she misses the personal connection with others and may host small groups of vaccinated participants in her yard. She has continued studying with abstract painter Meredith Rosier, who has been conducting her longtime Woodstock School of Art class online, which “has kept me connected with my peers.”

 

As an artist, after I stopped teaching, I had time and space to actually feel what was going on in the world,” says Kate McGloughlin. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

For painter, printmaker and long-time Woodstock School of Art teacher extraordinaire Kate McGloughlin, the pandemic has been life-changing. When forced to do her teaching online, she came up with a 16-week class with an ambitious curriculum that expanded out of simple art instruction to embrace the sciences and humanities: each week, she researched a theme, exploring its connection to other disciplines, such as poetry, astrophysics, math, music, anthropology, etc. The resulting essay, which also wove in stories from her teaching experience and travels, would be presented to the class as a lecture, accompanied by samples of her own work as well as from art history, followed by a demonstration. “The school is more than a school, it’s a beloved community and we wanted it to be a little beacon,” McGloughlin said. “It was a really creative time for me.”

The class finished up in July, and ever since McGloughlin has been on sabbatical. “I have my acre of land and a place to get into the woods,” she said. “I’m creating a retreat, majoring in Irish whistle and Mandarin and minoring in the mystics. I’m not planning any trips or classes. It feels like solitude, and it’s a friggin’ gift. I’m in a slow groove and [her companion] Sarah takes care of the house. I’ve been gardening since March…I read for an hour in bed in the morning before I drink tea. I could have a quiet life and it would suit me fine.

“I was raised on this property by old farmers,” she continued. “My hands in this dirt is the biggest truth there is. We lost a maple tree last week that my grandfather planted 70 years ago and it broke our hearts. We have to make new beds to get through it. We’ll plant our own tree. 

“I think as much as people think I gave, I have more to give delivered in a different way. I want to be able to talk to everything that matters to me, other than art,” she said and sent this writer an eloquent statement, a tiny portion of which reads:

As an artist, after I stopped teaching, I had time and space to actually feel what was going on in the world. That collective grief —souls departing, the radical revolution of routine, the deepening of the divide—really landed me in a deep-quiet-space, a place I’ve been yearning for years. (I’m a contemplative trapped in an extrovert’s body, and that output can be very draining…) 

…I had the opportunity to pay attention to my most beloved person, Sarah, and our beautiful homestead, both of which have been somewhat neglected while I’ve been out being Kate. Instead of my usual painting time, my winter work became creating an outdoor structure—The Banshee Ring—that a few souls at a time could meet in, around a fire, in the open air, under fake furs to keep some semblance of community/conversation going…we spent many days and evenings there. I just disassembled it, and know that I will probably always build one of these for the winter months.

So, I’m on sabbatical… I’ve been a working artist for nearly 40 years, at the school for 30 and teaching there for 27 of those 30 years. This pause gave me a chance to step out of my really wonderful, fabulous, fun-filled adventurous life long enough to see another way that also suits me. My re-entry will be very slow, and very selective.