Event cancellations have pushed local arts and culture into the digital realm, resulting in new outreach methods that may outlast their necessity.
As the coronavirus pandemic has forced museums, galleries and other spaces to close since mid-March, Binghamton has been devoid of the public events that usually shape its art scene. While February’s First Friday was postponed due to snow, April and May will mark the first full months in recent memory without First Friday events.
Joe Schuerch, house manager at the Phelps Mansion Museum, said the museum is taking financial hits from closing.
“A lot of our income comes from being open for tours and hosting programs and events, so not being able to do that right now has really impacted the museum’s finances because we don’t have that income coming in,” he said. “Much like any other museum or nonprofit in the area, we all rely on the same kind of income, so we’re all in the same boat.”
To maintain interest while events are canceled, some institutions have moved their programming online. Schuerch said he’s been collaborating with Chelsea Gibson, treasurer of the mansion’s board of trustees and a visiting assistant professor of history at Binghamton University, on education programs to stream via Facebook Live, where the mansion has its greatest body of followers.
“A lot of our engagement on our social media pages has been way up, so there’s a lot of engagement in some of the posts, especially our live ones,” Schuerch said.
So far, the page has hosted a Facebook Live mansion tour, a guided coloring activity, a book talk and a “behind the scenes” tour of the mansion’s third floor and basement, which are usually not part of tours. Schuerch said the staff is also trying to get educational materials, such as a virtual tour of the mansion, completed and onto the website, especially since students and children that frequently tour the mansion are now learning from home.
Some organizations have taken up the task of not only hosting events online, but also using internet outreach to support artists. The Broome County Arts Council’s (BCAC) website shares links to grants and other resources for artists who have been financially impacted by the virus. In addition, the BCAC’s Artisan Gallery has been promoting local retail artists on its Instagram account.
Shawna Stevenson, programs and marketing manager of the BCAC, said featuring artists has made artists more competitive.
“There’s actually a lot out there which is really good, but I think it’s probably competitive right now because a lot of people have been put out by this,” she said.
The BCAC is also showcasing art submissions from social media followers. Inspired by other art groups in the community, the organization has been posting Daily Art Boosts, art-related videos made by followers or other local organizations, to Facebook.
“We’re trying to encourage our local community to share those little bits of art that they’re making with us,” Stevenson said.
Artist Kristen Nicole Mann, 30, of Binghamton has been hosting live painting sessions on her personal Facebook and Instagram accounts and sending parents ideas for home art projects to do with their kids. She said the digital shift has provided the opportunity to shed light on art’s importance for everyone.
“The quarantine has given people time to maybe form a gift they never paid attention to when they were busy,” Mann wrote in an email. “It’s definitely a great time to tap into your artistic side to fight depression and anxiety. I’m excited to see what the generations currently having to survive through this time create.”
Stevenson said the quarantine might also lead to new strides in accessibility even after the virus subsides.
“Something I’ve noticed personally is that there’s a lot of events that have been shown online, like the Roberson Museum [and Science Center] or the Bundy [Museum of History and Art] or the Memory Maker Project, that I probably wouldn’t have known were happening and might not have been able to go physically,” she said. “I think it’s been really cool to see our community step up and do that, and it does make it more accessible to everyone, not just because of the coronavirus epidemic, but just generally accessibility issues. I think this could be a really interesting shift in how we share projects.”
Click here for a list of online events happening over the next few weeks.