Why This Matters: Mecklenburg County’s arts, science and history organizations, as well as creative individuals and local artists, are making sure we stay connected to the world and each other by creating engaging experiences online.
By Giovanna Torres
In less than a week, Discovery Place’s 36-minute Facebook Live video of its Reef Rubble Community tank had reached nearly 9,000 online views.
This was one of the first virtual initiatives launched by the cultural sector organizations soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Charlotte. A few days later, Middle C Jazz’s first Facebook Live session generated over 15,000 views. It was so well received that they decided to host a second streaming session…and then a third. Recently, Charlotte Ballet’s online premiere of Dispersal, their first-ever full performance presented online, accumulated 7,000 views and counting.
These thousands of video views validate what’s already been proven: the arts offer more than escapism – they provide hope and bring joy, positively impacting our daily lives. They can also serve as an antidote to times of chaos, having healing benefits and improve individual well-being.
Lucky for us, our vibrant cultural sector remains as creative as ever, rising to the challenges of these uncertain times and being among the first to adapt, create and innovate for us at home. As our community learns how to navigate this crisis and people desire to connect with each other more than ever, arts and culture is creating ways for us to interact, relax and connect.
ORGANIZATIONS OFFER A DIVERSE RANGE OF ENGAGING ONLINE EXPERIENCES
It took arts, science and history organizations less than a week to create digital online learning centers. The Levine Museum has videos and lesson plans centered on current and past exhibits; Discovery Place’s Stay-At-Home Science Series consists of fun family experiments intended to make science accessible for everyone; and Arts+ is offering virtual music lessons to students and will soon have 95 percent of its music curriculum delivered digitally.
In Huntersville, Carolina Raptor Center (CRC) went from delivering all their content in person on March 10, to cancelled field trips on March 11 and finally to no public programming by March 18. That same day they launched Avian Home Adventure, a behind the scenes look at CRC.
“We had to turn on a dime to make this happen,” shared Michele Miller Houck, CRC’s associate executive director.
Every morning at 11 a.m., CRC goes live on Facebook from one of its trails, the bird hospital—you name it—and answers questions from viewers in real time.
“All of our educators and trainers are producing content – it has become an essential part of their day,” says Miller Houck, confident that in the future, the center will be even more open to new ways to deliver content.
In three weeks, the center’s number of page views, post engagements and followers has increased significantly. It’s also been showered with positive feedback and gratitude. “People thank us, tell us how fun it is, and enthusiastically ask questions while the videos are going on,” she shared.
LOCAL ARTISTS KEEP CREATING WHILE HELPING US STAY CREATIVE
Local artists are also trying to find ways to engage with the community and help them stay creative. ASC grantees’ Perrine DeShield, Will Jenkins, Nick Napoletano and Emily Andress are just a few. DeShield and Jenkins started The Quarantine Couch podcast, while Napoletano gave away cans of spray paint – a giveaway “meant to inspire those who have been desiring new ways of expressing themselves but may not have the time or means to get started,” wrote Napoletano on his social media posts.
“I want to encourage people to try things on their to do lists that often get pushed aside during our day to day lives,” he added.
For Emily Andress and her creative partner Jean Cauthen, what started out with their desire to do something online to keep people from going stir crazy resulted in “ContourCorona with Jean and Emily”, a daily virtual meetup via Zoom, where the artists expose/encourage a group of people to try a different art form.
“The only supplies needed are paper, pen, and beverage of choice. We then do blind contour drawings of each other. Anyone can do it! It usually descends into a lot of laughing and sharing ridiculous stories but it’s a great way to connect!,” says Andress.
While part of the idea is to laugh and have fun, there’s much more to it.
“Using contour drawing as a centerpiece actually engages a part of the brain that is divorced from linear thinking, worries, and preoccupations. It provides a focus for our attentions, even in groups of folks who don’t know each other,” explains Cauthen.
The response has been so overwhelming, that last week they hosted their first international group, which included participants from the US, Canada, Ireland, and France. They’ve also been contacted by a group in New Zealand, and locally, people who’ve taken the classes have brought in more friends and even taken the learnings to the (virtual) workplace with fellow employees.
“These are tough times right now and we’re going to be stuck for a while. As artists, Jean and I know that we have to do whatever we can to make money, but this was too important for us to do to just keep spirits high and to have some fun,” said Andress.