Art and community can be a great comfort during stressful times. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought stressors into almost everyone’s lives. These emotional times are heightened further with the separation from loved ones and no clear end date for many countries. For years, conferences have acted as a great source for artists and art appreciators to connect, make friends, and grow as creators. COVID-19 has created obstacles including putting a halt to large gatherings like those at conferences. Living in an age of digital technology can have its negatives, but it truly has been a source of hope during this time of separation and stress. The art community, as creative thinkers have come up with solutions to continue supporting connection and comfort.

In March 2020, life seemed to come to a halt as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly spread to city centers all around the world. I was in my senior year of college and preparing to attend my last National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference as a student. After extensive deliberation and time, NCECA announced the cancellation of the 2020 Richmond conference. This news proved devastating for artists, students, and educators. As a student, I was completing my ceramics capstone; at NCECA I was to have a one-on-one critique with a successful ceramicist related to my work. Although the in-person conference was cancelled, the events themselves were not. NCECA decided to switch the five-day event to a completely virtual experience. Thankfully, I was still able to participate in my personal critique; however, it was over Zoom. With only about a week or two of preparation, NCECA did an outstanding job. Moreover, individual artists were putting their lectures on different social media platforms as Instagram live, Facebook Live, and Twitter. NCECA and private artists worked hard to ensure that ceramicists had a platform to continue to connect and learn from one another.

In addition to community and education, conferences offer valuable career resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed two-thirds of artists into unemployment. Large arts organizations that traditionally host conferences are using this information to tailor new productive conferences for artists. For instance, the Art World Conference has begun a new program called “Online Workshops to Navigate the Now”. With unemployment, artists are having to consider serious issues like lack of healthcare, insurance, housing, and more. The series Art World Conference is hosting, is a great resource for unemployed artists looking for answers and advice.

The arts are a place of welcome and comfort. Art conferences and gatherings are not just for artists, they are also for the public: appreciators, students, and general creators. Because the arts can offer a wide range of opportunities to experience hope and togetherness, organizations like Creative Capital have made comprehensive lists of artistic events people can attend virtually. From art history lectures to gallery walk-throughs, they offer a wide range of interests. Another group called Humanities and Social Sciences Online or Hnet is another platform that promotes unique educational opportunities related to the arts. For instance, they are currently advertising a conference called Institutional Approaches to Sustainability by Art/Switch on October 31, 2020. It will include speeches about contemporary and sustainable museums, how art institutions can be more sustainable, and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic has torn apart communities, interrupted students’ education, halted or forever changed life milestones, and more. 2020 has not been an easy year for millions of people; however, there have been signs of hope. The arts (visual and performing) have always been a form of comfort during darkness: from a comedy about tragedy to throwing darts at paint balloons, we feel a type of release when experiencing art. Although conferences wholly had to be cancelled or switched to virtual experiences, the arts are still available for your enjoyment, expression, and support. Take some time today to peruse some art conferences, maybe sign up for a few, and learn something new.

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