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‘Artists are really resilient’: Lethbridge’s visual artists, experts share experiences during COVID-19

Click to play video 'How Lethbridge’s art scene is being impacted by COVID-19' How Lethbridge’s art scene is being impacted by COVID-19
The sharing of art in-person has been put on pause by COVID-19. Eloise Therien has a look at how local artists have pivoted over the last several months, and what lack of community connections through art could mean going forward. – Jan 18, 2021

Art comes in many forms, such as photography, theatre, music, painting and writing. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, artists across different sectors have found ways to showcase their creations virtually or through physically-distanced means.

“Artists are really resilient and creative people, so they’re able to quickly shift their focus and start offering new ways to reach out,” said Suzanne Lint, executive director at the Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge.

In southern Alberta, New West Theatre put on a drive-in show over the summer, while the online art market at CASA supported local artisans during the holidays.

While this alternative is a safe one for now, Lint said the in-person element is necessary to keep art alive and well.

“I think the arts really are about connecting humanity to itself, to its stories,” she said. “So doing that through a screen is certainly not optimal, and it really isn’t a long-term solution for true arts experiences.”

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Darby Havrelock and Trinity Rostad are both students in Lethbridge who showcase their art online as a hobby, and as a way to make a little extra money.

Both said the lack of markets due to COVID-19 has been a roadblock in exposing their art to the public.

“I’m a very social person so I like to meet people, and I just find it easier to sell (at markets), whereas online there’s lot of shipping costs that you have to take into consideration,” Havrelock said.

“As an artist, you want to make connections face-to-face” Rostad said.

Havrelock said many of her paintings are heavily inspired by Alberta’s nature, particularly the buffalo as a connection to her Indigenous heritage.

With the pandemic keeping her mostly at home, she said her creativity has taken a hit.

“This is where you sleep, this is where you do school, and somehow you have to be creative here too,” Havrelock said. “I haven’t done a big painting in a long time, just because I’ve been stuck inside and I don’t feel like painting.”

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Read more: Lethbridge’s New West Theatre returns to stage with first-ever live drive-in show

Rostad, who paints mainly watercolours, said due to being at home for schooling, she’s found herself with more free time.

“My schooling is online. I’m always home,” she explained. “So I’ve actually had more time for art.”

Denise Savard, longtime painter and president of the Lethbridge Artists Club, said she has also had more time to paint, but misses the community aspect of creating art.

“When we were working we would all paint together, and then we (give) each other encouragement or tips and stuff, and now we miss that companionship,” she said. “We’re still in touch with email, so we’re still letting everybody know what’s going on.”

Savard added the club puts submissions in to CASA for exhibitions, also hanging some piece in restaurants. Under current provincial restrictions, art galleries are not permitted to be open until at least Jan. 21.

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The L.A. Gallery 2.0 in downtown Lethbridge has been open for 17 years, working with local artists to print and frame work, while also providing custom framing to the public.

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Owners Melina and Scott Warnock said they’ve felt very supported throughout the pandemic.

“Lethbridge is a thriving artist community, and we are so amazingly lucky to have great artists in the city,” Melina said. “We’re so blessed to have a wonderful customer base.”

Melina added she misses seeing pieces inspired by artists’ travels around the world, and being able to create shadowboxes with mementoes from trips abroad.

“It’s just so amazing to see the treasures people find and bring home from their travels,” she said. “I love to see all the unique artwork that comes in.”

With many artists in a variety of sectors continuing to hone their crafts, Lint said she and the Allied Arts Council are confident artists will continue to find their way during difficult times.

However, as the pandemic wears on, she worries large institutions could be impacted beyond repair.

“Sometimes there’s this notion that (the arts) are just an extra, they’re frivolous, they aren’t that important and we’ll just let it go for now,” Lint explained.

“Unfortunately, if you start to lose things like galleries, the larger institutions in particular, symphonies, professional theatre companies, professional dance companies… once you start to lose those things, the ability to rebuild them is challenging.”

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