Kalamazoo's Art Hop and other arts events ask audiences to catch them online

It's the first Friday of the month. 

You're out on the Kalamazoo Mall, or wandering through the Park Trades Center, or at a new business in Edison. Cup of wine in one hand, a cookie in the other. You hear the sound of a street musician outside. Looking at that wild Planet Steve metal robot/cat/what is it? 

Friends run into you, interrupt you musing over if you'd put that crazy piece on your wall. You chat, less than three feet apart, plan to meet up at the Tap House....

And then you wake up. This Art Hop, Friday, April 3, is usually the first nice spring Art Hop. The crowds come out, look at the works from local artists, socialize, maybe take their party to the nearest restaurant or brewpub. It's a tradition that can't go on  as it has in the time of COVID-19.

Like any activity that involves people gathering, the local art world has had its audience taken away. 

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts is also hurting, with the High School Area Show and West Michigan Area Show in danger of being unseen.

However, there are ways to get art to an audience, to even socialize a bit, virtually, on social media. The white wine and cookies will have to be from your own stocks, though. 

The work of Dave Elhart, who plans to participate in the online April Art Hop.

Art Hop at Home

The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo has been busy doing the opposite of what they usually do. They've been canceling and keeping track of canceled events.

It's just not the kind of work that makes ACGK executive director Kristen Chesak happy. "There are folks trying to get past this idea of having to invest in the amount of time and energy that it takes to cancel and make sure that's out in the world," she says.

Now's the time to "embrace this idea that we can use the internet to help us stay connected," she says.

"What was lost is what everything was lost in our lives, that human connection, the ability to experience things in-person. In all of the aspects in our lives, we're missing that right now. We hope to make up for it by being able to have a virtual Art Hop."

Friday, April 3, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., "we're inviting all of the artists in our community to go to our Facebook page and post their art," Chesak says.

Music, theater, dance, sculpture, paintings, and other projects will be on the Arts Council's page. Staff will make sure "that Facebook feed is rolling as quickly as possible, and the rest of the community can tune in to take a look at what our artists are working on, and be able to open up a little bit of a dialog, like you would if you walk around downtown, one of the neighborhoods or Park Trades, to look at someone's artwork," Chesak says.

So far they have 20 artists and organizers participating, including stained glass artist Mary Alexander, painter of bunnies and murals Patrick Hershberger, photographer and multimedia artist Tanisha Pyron, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Wellspring/Cori Terry and Dancers, and Glass Art Kalamazoo.

Any local artist can join in, "anyone who wants to take the plunge and get their art into the public." 

Chesak also expects live video streams of local performers.

"If people are wanting to participate, they need to go to our page, post to our page, use hashtag #arthop." 

Chesak hopes for community involvement, with post likes and chatter in the comments of what artists have to show us. In the time Before-COVID, Art Hop "was very much a community event and an event that we relied on the community to participate in to make it successful. I guess that's not any different at this point."

She adds, "we have to make the best of it. And hopefully, once we get back out into the world, we'll appreciate what we have in Kalamazoo a little bit more, the vibrancy" of our local arts community.

An annual favorite, Young Artists of Kalamazoo, the KIA's annual showing of art by students K-8 can now be seen online at the KIA website.

KIA: 'Art Beyond Walls'

One can't really appreciate art unless one sees it up close, in real life, Michelle Stempien, director of museum education for the KIA, says.

"We really stress the importance of people interacting with the actual art, interacting with the physical objects," Stempien says. "It's a very personal connection that we hope to have our audiences make with these amazing works of art that we display." 

They can put photos of art online, "but it's not exactly the same as seeing an amazing painting and being able to look at the brush strokes, see the paint and the texture and color in person."

Yet, people can't go to the museum right now. "So we're going to do the very best we can to engage our audiences and connect with them."

The KIA is putting "art beyond the walls" and hosting "#MuseumFromHome" for the duration. 

The first exhibit for the quarantined is the Young Artists of Kalamazoo, the KIA's annual showing of art by students K-8. 

"It's such a great thing for kids to see their art in a museum," Stempien says. "Teachers delivered the pieces right before we went into shutdown, but we installed the show on Monday (March 23), then we did a video walkthrough." Kalamazoo has its chance to "see some amazing children's art and celebrate all the creativity that these kids have," on the museum's exhibit page.

The next big show is also of local art, a juried show for adults over 18, the West Michigan Area Show. Stempien expects that to be online April 9. Then the High School Area Show will get the same presentation on April 23.

Before the shutdown, the KIA was gearing up for a new installation of its permanent collection. That will now be online in the form of images and information on each piece. 

Stempien says that the Kirk Newman Art School is investigating the production of online tutorials and classes, and the KIA's regular talks and children's programming could also go virtual.

"We are here for the community, we are hoping to continue to connect and engage with them until we can all see them again, which we hope will be soon," she says.

Other Kalamazoo arts going virtual 

The Kalamazoo Book Arts Center: Their annual Edible Book Festival is happening now on their Facebook page. Entries are often clever and punny -- see their first submission based on works by Seuss and Shakespeare, "Green Eggs and Hamlet." To submit: Send a photo of your food/book, along with the title and names of the creators to info@kalbookarts.org. Viewers can vote with likes, the most likes received by 7 p.m. on April 3 will be declared winners. 

Crawlspace Comedy Theatre: They are promising an online sketch writing class, and comedy on their Facebook and YouTube pages. 

The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival: Plans to live-stream performances by several artists who were scheduled to perform the 2020 festival. Lori Sims will collaborate with pianist Yu Lien The on April 22, The Matthew Fries Jazz Trio on April 28, and Gilmore Artist Igor Levit will perform his planned festival program May 8. All streams will be free. See the Gilmore site for more info. 

A Humorous Note: 2018 Gilmore Artist Igor Levit has been playing regular home recitals on his Twitter page. He's also been self-answering the question, "Und was macht Corona so mit Euch?" ("And what is Corona doing to you?")

Read more articles by Mark Wedel.

Mark Wedel has been a freelance journalist in southwest Michigan since 1992, covering a bewildering variety of subjects. He also writes on his epic bike rides across the country. He's written a book on one ride, "Mule Skinner Blues." For more information, see www.markswedel.com.
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