I was a firefighter for many years. But because it was more than a decade ago, it often seems like another person wore those turnout boots, cinched that ax belt and ran into burning buildings. Yet when the Covid-19 pandemic hit a few months ago, my old first-responder instincts rose up.
I wanted to be of use. But I’d let my E.M.T. certification lapse, so the only thing I was really good for was staying at home. This was important, of course, but as someone trained to spring into action in the face of death and destruction, it also left me restless and dispirited. I became that annoying friend who harangued you about food supplies early on and inserted the numbers of daily deaths and projected casualties into every conversation, so that even my own family told me that I made them anxious and that they wouldn’t speak to me unless I stopped.
Once schools started to close, my wife, the illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, wondered whether we could offer a free live drawing class for kids. For a week, she said, a half-hour every school day. Why not, I thought. It wasn’t the front lines. But it would be a nice distraction. It would be a service to the harried parents. Besides I was the only other human in the house. Someone had to hold the camera.
We used what we had on hand: a smartphone and Instagram Live. It was a rinky-dink operation, but these were rinky-dink times. Kids love Wendy in real life (though we ourselves are kidless) and sure enough, once the camera turned on, Wendy was just the person you’d want your children to hang out with during a pandemic: funny, carefree, willing to wear an assortment of colorful hats, yet also steady and soothing.
The response was immediate. Parents were grateful for what I saw as cyberbabysitting. One week of videos turned into two, then three. And something strange happened. What first seemed to me to be a simple feel-good endeavor for children — Grab some crayons! Draw a dinosaur! — was actually something more.
“The first time I’ve seen him relax and focus today,” one adult said of her child, via email. Another said, “We are only a week into this home schooling thing and drawing is the only thing that my daughter is still interested in.” For all of us life had turned strange, but for kids this new reality resembled a sudden, undeserved timeout — play dates were prohibited, outdoor sports were canceled, simple routines were now upended. Yet something about drawing was providing a much-needed intervention. “My 7-year-old usually can’t sit still for five minutes,” a caregiver wrote. “But he draws for the whole 30 minutes.”
It helped that Wendy’s on-camera persona was a mixture of Mr. Rogers and a Cirque du Soleil unicyclist. She instinctively understood when to draw calming spirals and when to scribble wildly. Her rambunctious illustrations, silly dances and rotating art smocks, along with her there-are-no-mistakes-in-art attitude clicked with her kid audience. “Swoop outside the lines! Put polka dots on that tiger!” she’d exclaim. But there was something besides a zany master of ceremonies going on here. Adults reported that their children were drawing long after class was over. This was about the act of artmaking itself.
“It’s a symbolic language for your internal world,” Sarah Rubin, a psychotherapist who has been incorporating art into her work for decades, said when I asked why drawing was so absorbing for children during this crisis. “Everything that’s going on gets lodged unconsciously. This is a way to get it out and on paper. Now you can speak about the drawing instead of what’s hard to talk about.”
Ms. Rubin pointed out that, unlike many traumas, such as 9/11, the coronavirus is unfolding slowly. While this is agonizing for many, it is also an opportunity: Kids can work out their emotions while it is happening. This allows a head start on adjustment and healing. “The sooner the better,” she emphasized. “Not down the road.” Ms. Rubin also lauds the kinetic experience that drawing offers. “Art is movement in space,” she explained, much more enthralling than the two-dimensional computer screen used for online schooling.
Research backs up Ms. Rubin’s insights. A 2014 study by Judy Rollins and Ermyn King showed that the children of wounded soldiers who engaged in art activities, including drawing, during hospital visits, communicated better with their injured parent and adjusted faster to their disrupted environment. Other studies show that drawing allows children to visually work out ideas about the surrounding world at a time in their development when the ability to articulate can be outpaced by cascading emotions. Hand a kid colored pencils, in other words, and the trepidation and confusion of the coronavirus pandemic transmutes into striped penguins and swirling fuchsia lines.
School in its various forms is finishing up around the country, giving way to an uncertain summer. This week our #DrawTogether classes ended, too. We graduated tens of thousands of kids from over 40 countries who had drawn dragons and treehouses and heart spirals with us over the past 12 weeks. But the pandemic has not ended. Children will continue to miss their friends, mourn their absent playgrounds and community pools, and absorb adult stresses. Yet when Wendy asked if we should continue as “art camp,” I hesitated at first.
Just months ago, I was a writer; now, I was someone who worried about glare, whether the family dog would wear a weird hat for the class, and how to pan from paint set to paper. Sometimes I didn’t recognize myself (or my wife, who was now stopped on the street by 6-year-olds). But the pandemic, while disorienting, is also full of surprises. We pitch in where it matters, and a truer self can emerge. In my small way, I’ve been a first responder all along; drawing, it’s become clear, is vital first aid for kids.
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'Gerryfest' to celebrate Gerry Atwell's music and art, but also his advocacy against systemic racism – CBC.ca
A festival celebrating the life of the late Gerry Atwell is taking place in Winnipeg next month — but the night will be about more than just music and art.
Atwell, a Juno Award-winning musician known for playing the keyboard for the Winnipeg band Eagle and Hawk, died after suffering a heart attack in late November 2019.
Family and friends knew they would celebrate his life with a music festival this summer. But with people in North America demanding change once again, a key part of the daylong festival will be focused toward the fight against systemic racism — a cause Atwell long advocated for.
“We’re all missing his humanity when it comes to these types of issues,” said Judy Williams, Atwell’s sister.
“He always had a different message for the different audiences he might have been speaking with,” she said, and were he alive now, he would say “something profound, but something that would be inclusive, whether he was going to encourage someone to take some action, or think of other people.”
Atwell also would see the positive opportunities that will come through the conversations being had, added Louise May, executive director of the St. Norbert Arts Centre, where she worked with Atwell for about 25 years.
“Even though it’s coming from such negativity and such a negative event, there is so much hope through it, and so much burgeoning awareness, and ability to talk about it and ability for people to confront themselves with it,” said May.
“It’s a very, very hopeful time and I know Gerry would be pushing us to see that hope and to really manifest it.”
Gerryfest will take place on Aug. 14 — Atwell’s birthday — at the St. Norbert Arts Centre. Both Williams and May said they felt his presence during the process of organizing the event.
“Even the term ‘Gerryfest’ was Gerry’s idea,” said May. “It was something that we talked about many times, kind of in a joking way. But I knew he always wanted to really do it, which was to have a day when all of his bands played back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
“To which I always said, ‘Gerry, what, you’re going to play for seven, eight hours in one row?'” she said. “That was going to be the very best day that he could imagine for himself.”
Although Atwell won’t be there in person, his presence will be there through former bandmates and other lives he touched, May said.
The planning of Gerryfest started before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Manitoba. So the original plan of a weekend festival has been whittled down to an afternoon and evening of music and art dedicated to Atwell.
“I really think we can just keep his work alive and keep building on it year after year with this,” said May, adding that this will be the first of an annual festival.
The festival will also raise funds for the Gerry Atwell Memorial Mentorship Fund, an endowment fund that will have musicians and artists mentoring young people, just like Atwell once did, said Williams.
An invitation is needed to attend the event at the St. Norbert Arts Centre, but people can tune in through livestreams online, said May.
Window shopping: Whyte Avenue Art Walk shifts from sidewalks to storefronts for 25th anniversary – Edmonton Journal
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“More than ever, it’s important for people to continue supporting artists,” said Zhelisko, who also teaches art classes at The Paint Spot. “I’ve had to put more effort into social media and promoting my work online, but I think the pandemic has shown people what’s really important. I’ve had some commissions from people who want portraits of family members or friends as a way to recognize them.”
First-time Art Walk participant Shelly Banks also works at The Paint Spot and specializes in oil, producing vivid nature and wildlife images that will be featured in the shop’s storefront.
“I’ve always been into art, but working at The Paint Spot and spending so much time around artists encouraged me to give it a try,” said Banks, regarding her decision to take up painting five years ago, producing watercolour, acrylic and coloured pencil art before settling on oil as her preferred method.
Penticton Art Gallery hosts first Bob Ross exhibit in Canada – Globalnews.ca
It’s the first time Bob Ross’ happy little exhibit has crossed the border to Canada, and it’s nestled itself right in the South Okanagan at the Penticton Art Gallery.
“There is something magical when you see them in the flesh. There is a greater level of skill than maybe you would believe when see them on TV,” said Paul Crawford, Penticton Art Gallery curator, of the exhibit.
Bob Ross’ TV show, which taught viewers how to paint with soothing words of encouragement and first aired 37 years ago, is seeing a resurgence in popularity online.
During the lockdown, people have been making the most out of their downtime by picking up paintbrushes and are learning how to ’embrace happy little accidents.’
The exhibit pulls back the curtain on a little TV magic by revealing that there were actually three versions of each Bob Ross painting.
“He’d have that first painting that no one would ever see, then there was the one he would do live half an hour on TV before your eyes,” said Crawford.
“Then he would do a third version which they would do if they missed a shot or for close-ups during the live taping.”
As Bob Ross said, “The secret to doing anything is believing you can do it.”
The exhibit will be open until Sept. 13.
‘It’s given me dreams that come to life’: Penticton artist uses studio as creative community hub
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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