Arts & Culture

How Charlotte Artists Are Staying Creative During COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has drastically changed the lives of artists and performers who make a living at live shows, galleries and festivals. But even with social distancing in place, you can still show your support for your favorite local creator.

The art community is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Shows have been canceled. Commissions have been postponed. Festivals will not take place, given the social distancing rules. It’s easy to think of these happening on a large scale, but they’re directly impacting creators in our community.

Photo by Julia Fay Photography

The Current State of Art in Charlotte

Performers, who make a living on attendance at shows, are no longer able to put on productions.

“Like so many involved in the arts, all of my gigs for this spring and summer were canceled or postponed,” said Jonathan Kaufman, a performer and tenor cast member at Opera Carolina.

“Opera Carolina’s production of Douglas Tappin’s opera, I Dream, was postponed from April 2020 to January 2021. In addition to this, I’ve had several opera voice competitions canceled, including the Jensen Foundation and The Gerda Lissner Foundation.”

Maurice Mouzon, First Company Dancer at Charlotte Ballet feels that a part of him has been put on hold through all of this. “I miss sharing the stage with my friends and just feeling the connection with the audience. I was preparing for a performance when COVID-19 hit, and I’m hoping to share dance with my community at a later date,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg

Artists whose livelihood depends on festivals and commissions are also feeling the impact of a time when people can’t gather.

“The stay-at-home order has really put a halting on the momentum of what I’m trying to do as an artist in regards to bringing people and communities together in real life,” said Mike Wirth, a Queens University professor and respected local muralist. You may recognize his work at The Peculiar Rabbitor Discovery Place Science.

“Right now my spring festivals have been moved back to the fall, hopefully,” said David French, an artist known for his detailed Charlotte paintings. “I was working on commissions for Bank of America Stadium. They wanted me to paint a piano bench for Billy Joel and a guitar for Garth Brooks. Needless to say, those concerts were canceled.”

Photo courtesy of David French

Brian Egger, owner of Montford Misfits — home of the popular custom craft beer maps — said festivals, art shows and other events were such a big part of the business.

“That’s how we made the majority of our sales as well as met new people to grow our business,” he said. “Once COVID-19 hit, everything halted and the last festival we did was March 7. So it really has shifted how we do business from in-person to online.”

Photo courtesy of Montford Misfits

Courtney Salton, known for her oil and watercolor works, was scheduled to provide work for the High Point Market in the Alden Parkes Showhouse, for the Mint Museum Auxiliary Symposium, and for a member spotlight at Charlotte Art League.

“It was disappointing, but I certainly realize there was so much more at stake if we didn’t follow the guidelines to shelter-in-place,” Salton said.

Aside from not being able to showcase art under normal circumstances, local artists are finding it difficult to focus on their craft with all of the added stress.

“Finding inspiration in a new routine has been challenging,” said Monique Luck, an award-winning international artist and muralist. Her work has been displayed in museums across the country, including the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture here in Charlotte.

Photo courtesy of Monique Luck

Jillian Mueller, who helped Kat Sánchez Standfield (@fiberess) complete the “Take Care” yarn art installation in NoDa, said she’s found it more difficult to make artwork throughout the past few weeks.

Art by Jillian Mueller and Kat Sánchez Standfield. Photo courtesy of Jillian Mueller

"While artists need time alone to work, we also need community, opportunities for feedback and collaboration, and a productive work environment,” she said.

How Artists Are Making Art Right Now

With COVID-19 affecting our ability to consume art and artists’ ability to produce, how are local artists staying positive? Many artists are pivoting to alternative means to practice their craft and share their passion with the Charlotte community.

Luck has channeled the negative energy caused by the virus into something beautiful.

“I incorporate emotions exposed from the isolation into new artwork,” she said.

Sydney Duarte — one-half of the mother-daughter muralist team behind the new “Do the things that light you up” mural at Two Scoops Creamery — said the crisis has pushed her to think further outside of the box. She has pivoted to focus on the positive and creating new masterpieces like coloring book pages, teaching online classes and creating collaborative art projects and videos.

Photo by Julia Fay Photography

Other local artists and performers have taken to online platforms to stay in touch with fans as well. French took to Facebook to sell his paintings online. Kaufman performed on Opera Carolina’s iStream concert series via Facebook Live in April. He also had the opportunity to work with baritone Lucas Meachem as part of his first-ever virtual masterclass on Facebook Live.

“It was a great experience, because it allowed for five singers from all over the world to work together. It was very unique, and I was thrilled and honored to have participated,” Kaufman said.

Along the same lines, Wirth has been streaming through Instagram Live as he works on paintings and drawings in his studio. He’s also been developing Instagram and Snapchat face filters for companies and individuals with fellow artist John Bates (@clt.cheeks).

Photo courtesy of Mike Wirth

“This has been an excellent way to connect with friends and fans and also gives me a platform to weave my teaching into a casual format,” he said.

Bates, local painter and muralist known for the “Stay Safe” mural at Burney’s Sweets and More, has taken the time to focus more on his social media presence.

“I've noticed a shift in my workflow to more canvas work for art sales and smaller commissions. I know we have to adapt to continue to be successful in this situation,” Bates said. “I’ve been working on my digital and social media presence, as it’s been easier to focus on them with the time and space from some of the daily distractions.”

Photo courtesy of John Bates

Aside from social media, many of the local artists are also taking the time to work on projects.

Luck is preparing new works for her upcoming solo show “Into Memory” at the Overcash Gallery, slated for July 27 - Oct. 1. She’s also currently working on a future public art project for the city.

Bates is working with his dad and a few contractors to complete a 2,200-square-foot second story addition to the new Elevated Society warehouse space, which is the studio where a handful of artists and creatives will be producing work in the future.

Duarte is working on a new wall for NoDa Yogaand Skiptown CLT. She’s also writing and illustrating a children’s book, and is co-creating a tarot card deck with Mariah Oller of Harvest & Moon.

“Luckily, the murals I have been painting are largely outdoors,” Duarte said. “It is nice when folks passing by stop to chat and take a photo from a distance. I miss being able to hug everyone, but it is nice to connect, even while being six feet apart.”

How You Can Support

More than ever, artists need community support. But with so many shows and events canceled, the ways to show this support look different.

Even though options for visiting shows and shops in person are limited, you can still purchase art from your favorite local sellers.

“This is an amazing time to buy art, research local artists that you like, and find out more about them. As a fan of art, ask how you can involve art in what you do professionally. Would a mural, rebranding or video promotion be a value add proposition for you or your company? These questions lead to connections that can truly support artists in our community,” Wirth said.

While it may be easy to decorate with pieces from a big-box store, showing your support for local artists goes a long way, and puts a face behind your incredible new conversation piece.

“Consider buying some art to decorate your home while you are sheltering-in-place there,” Mueller said. “Reach out to your favorite artist through email or social media to see if you can purchase a commission.”

Luck also advocates for buying art locally “supporting organizations that work to help local artists like Artpop Street Gallery, the McColl Center for Art + Innovation and the Harvey B. Gantt Center.”

You can even get a Charlotte-inspired coloring book from Queen City Nerveas an artistic way to escape day-to-day stresses. Sketches, which encompass skyline views, popular murals and statues, were contributed by more than 50 local artists. Plus, it’s for a good cause: half of the funds raised from the sale of the books will go back to the contributing artists.

Looking to support local performance artists?

“The local community can support by donating to artist relief funds,” Mouzon said.

Kaufman seconds that, adding that even if you aren’t able to give directly, you can reach out to those you’d like to help.

“For an artist, it could mean providing a meal, and for an organization, it could mean volunteering. While money is always valuable, your time is also,” Kaufman said. “Trust me when I say, any good one does makes a world of difference.”

He also recommends planning to attend performances, shows, concerts, open mics, galleries and fundraisers for the arts after the crisis subsides.

If supporting the arts financially isn’t an option for you at this time, you can still show your support for your favorite local artist through social media.

“The simplest way to support is by following local artists on social media, or even sharing images you’re a fan of to your friends and followers,” Egger said.

“Please like, share, and engage with artists on social media,” Salton said. “Connect with an artist and learn about their work.”