At the start of 2020, it seemed hard to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the Village of New Paltz. What had seemed like a mildly dangerous strain of flu relegated to the other side of the world has since effectively spread across the globe and transformed the lives of billions. Like many other small towns, this has resulted in temporary and permanent closures of local businesses since March.
The art communities of the Hudson Valley — and specifically, New Paltz — were not exempt from this. In the case of artist collectives and organizations, they have had to make significant changes to meet the community’s artist needs while keeping as many people as possible safe.
One group impacted by the effects of COVID-19 is CelebrateWomxn845. Founded by New Paltz-based artist Jamie Sanin, CelebrateWomxn845 is a group dedicated to organizing and recognizing “women, femme and nonbinary creatives” in the Hudson Valley (or “845”) area.
Pre-pandemic, CelebrateWomxn845 mainly hosted open-mic nights, exhibitions, talks, parties and other events that involved people being in close proximity to one another. Given the nature of COVID-19, which spreads easily in the above situations, it was not only unfeasible, but a public health risk to continue these events.
“As of March 2020, we have put our in-person events on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak and wellness guidelines,” read a statement on the CelebrateWomxn845 website. “We are dedicated to practicing physical distancing but aim to maintain social unity by continuing to provide for our community. We have faith that the arts will guide us through and are striving to bend with the challenges ahead.”
As of writing, the organization hosts open-mic nights on a regular basis over Instagram Live on their page, @CelebrateWomxn845. Anyone is free to watch, and to sign up, all one has to do is send an email to the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org. The open-mic nights have even garnered international participants, reaching a wider audience than the “845” area that the group normally operates in.
While CelebrateWomxn845 has transitioned relatively smoothly to an online format amidst the pandemic, Sanin herself hasn’t had the same experience. Her living situation in New Paltz became unfeasible a few months after COVID-19 reached the community.
“I moved out of New Paltz because I found an affordable situation in Kingston and needed to leave my spot in New Paltz. My landlord acted really poorly and selfishly as COVID-19 sunk in,” Sanin explained. “She did not check in on her tenants, she texted that rent was still due, started showing off empty rooms in the house without letting current tenants know and sending threatening texts; not cool.”
Sanin herself advocates for the cancellation of rent as a mode of relief for those who are struggling to make do while out of work or unable to sustain a living wage.
CelebrateWomxn845 isn’t the only arts organization in New Paltz that has had to change gears because of the pandemic. Roost Studios, which has been operating at 69 Main St. for the better part of four years, has “flown the coop” and shifted completely online, beginning in June.
“The impact of the coronavirus on the use of physical space to bring art and community together has been significant. As such, we are vacating our gallery space on Main St.,” their farewell statement on Facebook read. “As much as we and other arts organizations face unimagined challenges and threats, we are by nature creative souls who must now begin what may be an exciting process of reinvention and self-discovery, as well as seeing opportunities we may have overlooked.”
As of writing, there are four exhibitions available on the Roost’s website (www.roostcoop.org). These include “Abstraction: Around the Corner and Around the World,” the “Africa” photography exhibition, the “Mary Wilkes” exhibition and the “Student Art Exhibition.”
In addition to moving online, Roost Studios will be holding several events that will take place outdoors and follow proper COVID-19 protocols to guarantee the safety of those in attendance. The first event planned is the “Outdoor Paint & Sip” at Twin Star Orchards on Sept. 13, and as stated on the event website, anyone who comes to this event will spend “a Sunday afternoon in September outdoors in a beautiful apple orchard painting and sipping hard cider.”
The next event is a “plein air” painting experience along the Mohonk Preserve. Artists who sign up will be stationed along the Testimonial Gateway and Pin Oak Alley and will, as the name implies, paint on site in the open air of the Mohonk Mountain in the fall. The event will be held on Oct. 17. More information can be found at www.roostcoop.org/plein-air-art-walk, including directions, schedules and how to sign up as an artist. The event is open to the public.
The final event that will feature involvement from Roost Studios will be “Community of Peace: An artistic study on what brings us together.” This is an art project sponsored by the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce, with the committee for the project featuring Roost’s Executive Director Marcy Bernstein and the Founder of Stone Wave Yoga, Liz Glover Wilson.
Participants will apply online to receive a peace pole or large peace sign that they’ll be able to decorate with hopeful and uplifting messages.These poles and signs will then be placed across New Paltz and surrounding towns and villages. Information on the event can be found at www.newpaltzchamber.org/community-of-peace.html.
“We already have thirty people signed up, and the goal is to get a hundred. No one will be turned away, but there is a registration fee,” Bernstein said. “It’s actually a donation, and anyone can pay with what they can afford.”
According to the Chamber of Commerce’s website, “All proceeds will go towards a community impact art scholarship. The Regional Chamber of Commerce at New Paltz Foundation will award this scholarship annually.”
“It’s designed to engage community members,” Bernstein said. “It has to be positive messaging, not political. We’re asking for a little sketch beforehand. We don’t want anyone to use these as a platform for politics or anything that’s divisive or negative.”
“The idea is, ‘What brings us together?’ Positive vibes. Positive energy, positive messaging, bringing happiness and connections to all the locals, business and visitors to the area. They should be beautiful, colorful and peace focused,” Bernstein added.
The pandemic presents unique challenges for the artists of New Paltz. Art is an interactive experience between the artist, the patrons and the space itself; the pandemic hampers this crucial, human aspect of enjoying the arts. Fortunately, artists are a creative bunch, and with virtual galleries, virtual open mic nights and events out in the open air, local artists and art groups have found new ways to thrive as we grapple with this devastating pandemic.