These are what Richardson artist Jonesy McConnell has to show for the nearly 30 days he and his wife spent in federal quarantine after COVID-19 broke out on a cruise ship voyage they took earlier this spring.
“I carry a sketchbook for paintings everywhere I go,” he said. “For this cruise, we were going to have 10 days at sea, so I thought it’d be a nice time to get out on the deck and do watercolor sketches.”
Like McConnell, many creatives in Richardson have looked to COVID-19 as a source of inspiration for their art. But in absence of events and exhibits, artists and performers are leaning into digital platforms to attract audiences.
“Overall, art is suffering because people have other things on their mind—expendable cash is short for most people,” McConnell said.
McConnell is a member of the Richardson Civic Art Society, a nonprofit organization supported through the city’s grant program. Its fall show, which promotes and sells the work of local artists like McConnell, will be held virtually this year.
“It’s been hurtful not to see each other,” he said. “Artists are pretty gregarious, for the most part. Most of us enjoy each other’s company. So we do miss that during this time.”
Local nonprofit Arts Incubator of Richardson is also facing unprecedented challenges. The organization has canceled the remainder of this year’s live events, but its commitment to promoting the work of artists is undeterred by the virus, AIR President David Nethery said.
“We have been working hard to shift our focus to digital and online activities,” he said “We are shifting; we are scrambling; we are seeking to reinvent ourselves.”
One of the ways AIR is supporting digital endeavors is through a new program called AIR Creates. The virtual exhibition allows artists and musicians to submit their work for a feature on AIR’s website and social media channels.
The idea for AIR Creates was born out of the desire to provide entertainment while residents are stuck at home, Nethery said. Artists interested in the platform can apply through AIR’s website.
“Why not do something that features a creative individual who has something to offer that we could put online?’” Nethery said of his thought process. “We don’t pay them, and they don’t pay us. It’s just a way to fill the gap.”
Richardson Symphony Orchestra is also striving to adapt its performances for a digital audience. Its fall season is set to unfold as scheduled, but socially distanced concerts will also be streamed live for those who are not yet comfortable returning to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.
“We have to continue to figure out a way to bring live orchestral music to the community,” RSO Executive Director and President Laurie Garvie said.
The group has also launched a podcast program that features an oral history of the Richardson Symphony Orchestra, which is entering its 59th season, as well as interviews with longtime patrons, former board members, principal musicians and guest artists. Four episodes are currently available here.
“It’s a nice way to connect with patrons and build our audience and give people an understanding of who we are,” Garvie said.
Most of these initiatives were intended for the short term, but leaders of the arts and entertainment industry are not naïve to the fact that the pandemic has shifted expectations among audiences. As a result, many digital options will likely stick around, Garvie said.
“I think these are things that will continue indefinitely,” she said. “People have grown accustomed to consuming more art in their homes. Our lives have really changed in so many ways.”
The virus will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on the industry, Nethery said. But creatives tend to look for silver linings, and he said he believes historic moments such as the pandemic have and will continue to influence art in a positive way.
“Even in the midst of a pandemic like this, you can still find wonderful examples of beauty, of joy, of possibilities, of kindness,” he said. “I think artists of all genres as they go into the future ... will focus on a lot of the possibilities that can come of this whole experience.”