We now have proof Jamiroquai was way ahead of its time when the band sang in 1996, “Future’s / made of / virtual insanity.” In 2020, under COVID-19’s reality of social distancing, self-isolation, quarantines and shelter-in-place, most of us are receiving all our info on the pandemic and from our communities via social media, FaceTime, Zoom meetings, TV and livestreams. While “insanity” is one way to describe our current existence, others are looking at this new virtual world as an opportunity to forge deeper connections with their communities via knowledge and entertainment.
Cameron Art Museum is doing just that. Normally, the museum is a place where people can go to elevate their artistic minds, whether through exhibitions, classes offered throughout the week, or gallery tours that showcase the ins and outs of multimedia artists. Though CAM’s building is closed to the public until further notice, the outreach team and staff are still focused on launching needed programs.
“We’re trying to stay engaged and relevant for our public by offering online prerecorded videos as part of #ConnectwithCAM,” deputy director Heather Wilson tells. “We believe art can bring us together, no matter the distance.”
There are videos now on their social media feeds, which include YouTube and Facebook (all of which can be accessed through CAM’s website). Wilson herself taught a virtual meditation and writing class on Monday, in the middle of CAM’s “Unfolding Noguchi” exhibit. She starts by talking about artist Isamu Noguchi and reveals a book club they will start soon, beginning with a biography of Noguchi, “Listening to Stone,” by Hayden Herrera. She then goes into a meditative exercise as the video pans to Noguchi’s beautifully illuminated, large paper lanterns. After 20 minutes of meditation, Wilson leads the group into a free-writing exercise, asking them to describe in detail their creative visualization during meditation. The camera shows more of Noguchi’s work as inspiration during the writing period.
Even though folks may have missed Monday’s class, they can still access it on CAM’s Facebook page, along with demos by local teaching artists like Kirah Van Sickle, and art lessons for kids by CAM’s director of youth and family education, Georgia Mastroieni. Mastroieni leads the live 20-minute Art Explorers class every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. Her first class had over 1,200 views, and folks were encouraged to post pictures of their participation. Mastroieni changes up lessons plans but usually starts with reading a book (such as Dolly Parton’s “I Am a Rainbow” ) and then hosting a complementary activity (i.e. how to make rainbows from materials at home).
“We’re also offering online lessons for children ages 5-12 on Mondays and Wednesdays that parents can download and do with their children on their own time,” Wilson tells.
So far CAM has done Facebook Live artist demos. One showcased Renato Abbate throwing pots on the Pancoe Patio. Live sessions are recorded in staff members’ and artists’ homes and studios, too, as the community practices social distancing.
“We anticipate other initiatives to be announced in upcoming weeks,” Wilson says. “We’re particularly excited to move some of our exhibitions online for the community to engage with that way.”
Current exhibits aside from “Unfolding Noguchi” include “The Eye Learns—Modernist prints from the Louis Belden Collection,” “Structure in Space and Time—Photography by Phil Freelon” and “Stories in Print.” Virtual tours give folks a brief look at the exhibits from the eyes of staff and community members. For instance, one 2-minute episode was hosted by local papermaker Fritzi Huber on Louise Nevelson’s “Skygate I” in “The Eye Learn—Modernist Prints from the Louis Belden Collection.” CAM’s YouTube channel collects the tours in one place. “We plan on releasing two a week,” Wilson tells.
CAM will have their new semester of Museum School classes online before long as well. They’re finishing the current semester now.
Also teaching classes on her own site, free-online-art-classes.com, is local artist Lois DeWitt. DeWitt has been drawing and evolving her art skills since age 3, and went on to receive her bachelor’s degree from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and her MFA from Pratt Institute. She had a career in computer-aided design for an apparel company and worked as secretary to the director of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Along the way, she has taught art to the public in some form or fashion.
While DeWitt normally teaches at CFCC in the continuing education program and out of her sunroom studio at her home near Snow’s Cut Bridge, in 2008 she upfit her website to host online classes. Today they’re coming in handy more than ever, and many are offered for free.
“We are all hard-wired to create,” Dewitt says. “[I encourage] my students to resist the left hemisphere urges that sabotage their creativity.”
Her website is full of amateur, intermediate and advanced classes in painting, drawing, printmaking, oil pastels, conte crayon and more. She offers short projects for kids and groups, and even has bits on artful cooking, gardening, finding the artist within, and other subjects.
“Most courses have six lessons,” DeWitt says. “Many of my basic classes are art-school quality, which means they instruct the basic skills that art schools teach. I advise starting at the first lesson and continuing to the end to develop skills and confidence.”