What is art worth without people to experience it? In what has been close to a 12-month period where Brunswick-based art galleries and local independent artists have been forced to curtail and restructure their operations, those in the industry have grappled with just that question—and found creative solutions to operate their businesses and safely bring their work to the world, even during the pandemic.
“Last March, I realized quickly that all of the shows that I usually do were getting canceled left and right,” said Brunswick-based artist Catherine Worthington in a phone interview with the Orient. “My work is textile, so it’s not the kind of thing that online [presentation] is going to do justice.”
Despite her initial setbacks, Worthington found success with the Lemont Block collective, a small art gallery and shop on Maine Street, in December. Six weeks before the holidays, Worthington had her art installed and quickly began to make promising sales.
“I did really well,” Worthington said. “We were really good about being careful, wearing masks and staying spread out. It felt like a safe space filled with light and color and beautiful art.”
On Maine Street, Bayview Gallery has also been able to remain open during the pandemic, due to both its large floor space and its high ceilings. To compensate for the reduced level of in-person traffic, the gallery has also adapted to virtual methods of engagement.
“We feel quite comfortable and quite safe,” Susan Robertson-Starr, owner of Bayview Gallery, said in a phone interview with the Orient. “The difficulty, of course, is that we can’t have receptions, which are common [when] opening new exhibits.”
To compensate for the lack of in-person events, the gallery has been keeping their clients informed with regular e-newsletters and Facebook and Instagram posts.
“Like most retailers, we are doing more online [engagement], and that’s a good thing,” Robertson-Starr said. “I have a very solid client base, and I keep up with them.”
Bayview is not the only gallery that has relied more on their online presence. Spindleworks, located on Lincoln Street, has also taken advantage of online selling during its shop closure, as well as employing innovative methods for engaging artists in classes and programming.
“We have upped our online website shop game, [and] we’ve had some pretty robust Zoom programming ever since the pandemic began,” said Program Supervisor Amy Mulligan in a phone interview with the Orient. “We’ve been creating a podcast, too, which is really incredible.”
Although they have continued operating, Mulligan believes that some in-person aspects of Spindleworks’ programming are irreplaceable and looks forward to starting them up again as soon as it is safe to do so.
“A huge part of artists coming to the program is that sense of community with the other artists and with the community of Brunswick, and that is very limited [currently],” Mulligan said.
The pandemic has complicated operations for many artists, but it has also opened new doors for artists who are willing to be flexible. Brunswick-based artist Kate Beck has appreciated the opportunity to become more skilled with virtual forms of communication.
“It’s actually been really good for me,” Beck said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I’ve learned how to reach out to other curators and to use social media and Zoom.”
In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, Beck only has visitors to her studio by appointment. Although she misses hosting walk-ins, she envisions her studio as a place of refuge during uncertain times.
“When I’m by myself at home, I feel my isolation more than in my studio—and when I go to my studio, I have a great freedom,” Beck said. “I can get away from the pandemic. I can just do my work and feel good.”
Despite the stall in shows, many artists have managed to stay afloat by attracting clients who are looking to refresh their living space as they spend more time at home.
“A lot of people are feathering their nest because they’re home,” said Beck. “It’s funny how things come around like that. I’ve actually had some really good sales in the last year.”
“There are many people either moving to Maine from more congested areas, or people who have summer homes here who are now staying in them and doing some enhancements,” said Robertson-Starr.
Beck and her colleagues have made necessary adaptations to their daily creating and operating practices. With concerns to keep themselves and their clients safe, the Brunswick art community has continued to show their support for one another and for their craft.
“It’s really wonderful that we can connect as people and that we can keep each other going,” Beck said. “As far as my art goes, I feel very energized right now—and grateful.”