At Studio Place Arts in Barre, the galleries were in transition. “Botanical Blitz” in the Main Floor Gallery was coming down with purchasers and artists arriving to gather their artwork. New artwork for “Future” was arriving. The Front in Montpelier just opened Ray Brown’s solo exhibition, “Tumbling Toward the End.” Also on Montpelier, T.W. Wood’s “Art and Social Justice” and group show of the Art Resource Association were in place.
“Love Letters” at Stowe’s Helen Day Arts Center, “2020 Artists to Watch” at Vermont Arts Council’s Spotlight Gallery, Nitya Brighenti’s “Of Cities and Deserts” in the Supreme Court Gallery, both in Montpelier, and other compelling exhibitions at Greensboro’s Highland Center for the Arts, UVM Fleming Museum in Burlington, Shelburne Museum and more were open, offering rich visual experiences to viewers.
With the spread of COVID-19, the ground shifted. Life was suddenly upended for arts organizations in central Vermont, like everyone else.
Galleries and museums have quickly responded — in terms of public access and programming. For safety of public, artists and staff, access to exhibitions is either closed or limited, with vigilance in health protocols a top priority. Art classes, opening receptions and other programming are postponed or canceled.
Like businesses and individuals, arts organizations are also suddenly dealing with financial disruption as income streams dwindle or cease.
Many galleries and museums are following Vermont’s school guidelines, expecting their doors to be shut to the public until at least April 6.
For the moment, Studio Place Arts and The Front continue to be open to the public with limitations to provide for safe social distancing and with an abundance of attention to sanitizing surfaces. The Front, with the late Ray Brown’s solo exhibition, is currently open by appointment only, scheduled by phone or email, 802-552-0877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPA aims “to modify how we do business, but still remain open,” said Sue Higby, SPA executive director. “We will be acting in a very flexible and very strategic way so we don’t make any errors that will jeopardize the health of our visitors or artists.”
Visitors to SPA will notice the first change at the front door with a newly installed doorbell, hand sanitizer next to it. With the doorbell, SPA can manage numbers of people in the galleries and be sure that visitors have safety information. SPA conducts frequent “emergency wipe downs.”
“We keep a stock of supplies out. I go through the building three times a day and wipe down railings, light plates, faucet handles, doorknobs — any place that people may touch. We are very concerned and don’t want there to be an incident with exposure,” Higby said.
“I view a small art center such as ours as a form of refuge, and I would hate to close it off to the public at a time when I believe we have people who could benefit from coming in viewing the artwork. If appropriate interpersonal protocols take place then I think we can continue to allow people in to enjoy what happens here,” she said.
SPA’s 2020 schedule was reworked to bump spring classes to later dates, extend dates for the current exhibitions, and hold their annual fundraising SPA BASH later — May 29 instead of its earlier April date.
Along with disrupting public access, COVID-19 is disrupting finances of arts organizations.
At T.W. Wood Gallery, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, galleries are closed, public events canceled and classes postponed.
“We’re taking a bad hit. The after-school program is a cornerstone of support for us and it is canceled through April 6,” said Margaret Coleman, T.W. Wood executive director, noting that the closure also cuts off income from renting the galleries for events and commissions, art sales, creative programming and other classes including figure drawing.
“We will be relying heavily on membership, generosity of the community, and any aid we get from government to get us through,” said Coleman, who noted that her time now is focused on grant applications, fundraising and “preparations to hit (the) ground running when we reopen.”
“We’re so excited about the shows that are up and are coming. We’ll figure out how to get them to viewers,” Coleman said.