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Local galleries go digital for First Friday 

click to enlarge COURTESY STELLAR PROPELLER
  • Courtesy Stellar Propeller

The Colorado Springs arts community held its first ever Virtual First Friday on April 3, the latest in a series of efforts to help cultural workers adapt in the time of COVID-19. The event was the result of the collective efforts of downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs and Peak Radar, along with multiple galleries and artists.

“COVID-19 has been extremely challenging for small business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs broadly, but cultural workers are faced with a specific set of challenges,” says Claire Swinford, director of urban engagement for the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership. “They are often overlooked by emergency legislative measures put in place to help other industries, and they are specifically targeted for exclusion by lawmakers who believe the arts are frivolous or not worthwhile investments of government dollars.”

Swinford says the idea for virtual First Friday was developed when Robin Schneider, the manager and curator of Art 111 Gallery & Art Supply, and Lauren Ripko, special events director of Shop Old Colorado City, expressed concerns about the artists in their communities. Schneider had noticed neighboring galleries beginning to close and offered to shoot videos of the artwork in an effort to keep promotion going through the city shutdown. Soon after, Peak Radar offered to host the videos, the Bee Vradenburg Foundation offered $1,000 in support, and the new First Friday was born.

“I hope the idea of a virtual art walk will help me to help the artist. My thought is that we just can’t stop and wait, we must keep going,” says Scheider. “I am really excited about this and I hope to leave the video up on our page for the month so people can go back and see things.”

Other gallery owners have also been enthusiastic about participation. G44 Gallery owner Gundega Stevens expressed delight at being a part of the new initiative.

“I am so thankful Downtown Partnership invited me to participate in their digital initiative,” says Stevens. “We can’t forget about the arts right now.”

Stevens launched a show titled COVID Creations for Virtual First Friday. It features work created by artists during the stay-at-home order.

Abigail Kreuser of Kreuser Gallery also expressed appreciation — and pride — in supporting her gallery’s artists during Virtual First Friday.

“The current developments have impacted our arts community drastically. It differs from individual to individual; some cannot pay rent due to galleries and storefronts closing temporarily, some cannot teach classes that were supplementing their income,” Kreuser explains. “We need this and I am honored to be a part of it.”

The pandemic has hit artists in a variety of ways. Some, like Swinford, who is an artist in addition to her work with the Downtown Partnership, have felt the strain of isolation and uncertainty on their work.

“The brain effort involved in wrapping our minds around this crisis has taken a lot of energy away from the processes and inputs we use to be creative,” says Swinford. She points to the example of a friend who has forced herself to do daily oil sketches of her basset hound to maintain her skills while the spark of creativity lies dormant.

Liese and Kris Chavez, co-owners of Chavez Gallery in Old Colorado City, are working to adjust to two changes simultaneously.

“Our days are so different now,” Liese Chavez explains. “Instead of entertaining clients, we are taking lots of pictures and video to try to offer an experience as similar to being here in person as we can. We are still working 40 hours a week, just in a new way.”

Since the shift, she has focused heavily on her commissioned work that provides a guaranteed income — surreal portraits that depict people and pets in a way that tells the story of the subject’s personality. She says the work is still unusual and engaging enough to maintain her excitement.
“As artists and business owners, the job is always about problem-solving,” she says. “We are solving different problems than we usually do, but if we keep thinking creatively we will figure out how to carry on. Who is more used to fighting to survive than artists and small biz owners? We’ll adapt and survive or we’ll rebuild as we’ve always done.”

Most virtual First Friday videos and online exhibits will be up through April. See peakradar.com/virtual-first-friday.

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