Vermont Arts Council

Art in the Time of Covid: River Arts

With the suspension of the regular routine of life as a result of Covid shutdowns, many businesses and organizations took the time to reevaluate the structure of their own working environment and their impact on the greater community. River Arts is one such company. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, River Arts is based in Morrisville and focused on enriching the community through the arts. Its core value is “Arts for Everyone,” but the isolation and varying impact of Covid shutdowns on those of different races, gender expressions, and financial means revealed ways upon which inclusivity could be expanded.

River Arts has also found inspiration this year in new staff member Lisa Wolfgang as she took on the role of Events and Program Coordinator. Lisa has a background in music and arts engagement, and through her efforts River Arts now has a partnership with the Morrisville Alliance for Culture and Commerce, as well as other local businesses, to create Music on Main: a free local music series running every Friday in July and August from 5:30-7:30 on Main Street in Morrisville.

Below, Lisa speaks to various projects and efforts being undertaken by River Arts to truly make Arts for Everyone.

How has the pandemic challenged your creative practice and/or business?

Covid has certainly been a challenging time for River Arts. With our building closed for half the year and all our programs suspended, our board began reevaluating what the function of River Arts was in our local community. How do we more equitably provide programming and opportunities for our community members? How can art be the catalyst for positive change and connection? How can the staffing structure at River Arts reflect the value of collaboration and creativity? As a result of this reevaluation, River Arts began an internal restructuring, and we are moving towards a culture of collaborative decision-making with a Co-Director model. We are also reevaluating our offerings to ensure we are truly serving everyone in our community with accessible and engaging programs. 

As 2020 progressed, we began to think creatively about how we could use art to help combat isolation. We tried out Zoom classes, take-home art projects, an art CSA, socially distanced classes in our large upstairs space, and reached out to partner with other local organizations like SafeArt, Lamoille Neighbors, and Healthy Lamoille Valley to create opportunities for youth and adults to get creative at home. It was always hard to gauge whether a program would be a success or a flop, and we learned a lot of lessons along the way.

How have you found strength or support since the pandemic began?

Our community has really been the biggest support throughout the past year. Our volunteer board really stepped up to help staff the office, offer guidance to staff, dream up programming, and have even played the role of bookkeeper for a time. Without their heroic donation of time, expertise, and guidance, River Arts would be in a very different place. 

The volunteers on our events committee began thinking about how River Arts could reach out more during this time of isolation and helped design a number of free community projects. We had over 100 community members participate in either building or voting on their favorite scarecrows last fall. We sent home fabric squares to families and students and artist Jayne Allister assembled all the decorated pieces into a pandemic tapestry (currently on display at River Arts). And this spring we had over 30 community members decorate birdhouses built by board member Tricia Foller and her heroic husband (and jack of all trades) Mark. We installed our public birdhouse project in early May along the Lamoille County Rail Trail for everyone to enjoy this summer.

The birdhouses created with the help of River Arts.

We also want to thank all the generous folks who donated this past year to help keep River Arts afloat during this tumultuous time. We are a grassroots organization that runs on your support, and we could not be more grateful for the support.

What are your plans or hopes for the future?

As River Arts looks ahead, we are about to begin a search for a new Co-Director position. We’re still working out the details, but we hope to begin hearing from interested candidates during the month of July and complete our hiring in early August.

As our clay studio has been such a steady point of access for folks throughout the pandemic, we’re looking to find ways to reach out to local potters and other ceramics studios in our area. River Arts is currently working on the Lamoille County Clay Collective, an online database to connect people through clay in our community. If you’re a potter living, working, or selling work in Lamoille County, please reach out to join our database! We look forward to a once-a-season “Potter’s Potluck” starting this fall!

We also hope to reimagine our youth and elder outreach programs so that we are connecting with the folks in our community who really need arts engagement. We are excited to develop new drop-in community groups to support musicians, crafters, and creative folks of all mediums and types. Keep an eye out for new events like a winter music series and teen employment opportunities to teach kids art!

What are some ways people can support your work right now?

Take a program! Stop by one of our outdoor events this summer or drop by the River Arts building to view local art. Visit our website to see all our upcoming programs and events or to offer your suggestions on what River Arts could offer that you’d like to attend. As always, we ask folks to consider donating to support local art opportunities. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Our annual fundraising event Viva! is taking place this summer outdoors on July 23rd. Our reimagined live auction and party will take place in the beautiful garden of a longtime friend and supporter. It’s sure to be a fun evening, with live music and fabulous artworks, experiences, and gifts in both our silent auction the live auction. Tickets are on sale now!