As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Alaska and state mandates closed or limited businesses and organizations, art and cultural nonprofits have had to swiftly adapt. At the Homer Council on the Arts, one of Homer’s oldest arts organizations, the nonprofit already faced a challenge: It had no executive director.
Former Executive Director Peggy Paver left in September 2019, and since then the arts organization has been managed by volunteers from its Board of Directors and an administrative assistant, Amanda Kelly. The council has been interviewing for a new director and will announce its selection soon, said vice-president Sharlene Cline.
“It’s taken a lot of effort, but at the same time it’s taught us a lot, because you start paying attention,” she said. “… There’s just a lot of life being blown into the organization.”
Like other galleries, the council closed its doors because of the pandemic. That meant a big closing reception for its March Disability art show had to be canceled. The Jubilee Youth Art Show had to switch to an online exhibition. Its Art a la Carte classes also went online.
“It’s also been really interesting, not just for us, but all these organizations,” Cline said. “You think it’s a great idea to do something virtual, online, but (then) to be pushed to train. A lot of things that would have taken money and training, we’re doing now.”
The council was able to make the Art a la Carte classes online. The teacher, Carly Garay, made videos and came up with projects that could be done with household items. The classes only lost one week as public schools got an extended spring break and students shifted to distance education.
“I’ve just been really proud how we’ve been able to change quickly with the times and without a director,” Cline said.
Other programs were created that didn’t require gallery space. Cline came up with a poetry contest, “Fruits of Our Quarantine” — her husband Rick Cline thought of the title — that’s open for middle school and high school students and adults. That contest invites poets to write about social distancing, connection or isolation, staying healthy, gratitude and other themes. Winning poets get a $20 gift certificate and will have their poems published in the Homer News. The deadline is May 8. Email entries to email@example.com.
“We tried to come up with something you can record day-to-day, because it’s a historic time,” Cline said. “It doesn’t have to be all hope and fancy. It can be down to earth or negative.”
HCOA Board President Kiki Abrahamson also came up with an outdoor art project now being held at Mariner Park. Practicing good social distancing, artists can add to an ongoing sculpture project by creating rock cairns or making other art from natural objects.
An event planned to be held at the gallery for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird festival, a birdhouse painting workshop, will be held individually after the festival was canceled. Artists can still paint birdhouses, but the kits will be picked up at Homer Council on the Arts on May 7 and done at home. There is a $20 fee; for information visit homerart.org.
“A lot of ideas keep coming to us,” Cline said of the board. “… We have a saying: ‘If there’s a lead dog, then the project can go.’ It’s a very creative bunch.”
The next big push will be announcing the new executive director and then preparing for the council’s big annual summer event, Mary Epperson Day, held in June. That will be done as some kind of socially-distant oriented event following whatever guidelines for groups develop as mandates are relaxed or changed.
Cline said the board sees the council as returning to its roots as an arts organization that encourages and nurtures youth and emerging artists.
“What is it all of us really appreciate about Homer Arts?” she asked. “For a lot of us, it is for people just starting art, emerging — just trying to go back to educating and opportunities. … As long as people are willing to put in a little effort to make it happen as well, it’s welcomed. We’re welcoming people, for people to feel their ideas can happen, that we’re approachable.”