Last March, after the first day of our Spring Break Camp, we closed our building to the public due to worsening conditions of COVID-19. There was so much uncertainty as we embarked into completely unknown territory. As an organization whose core service is the delivery of in-person arts education programs, we had many questions to answer and decisions to make. What would we do? How would we do it? What about our self-employed teachers and artists? Our students? How long would this situation last?
The pandemic hit hard, but within a week, most of our staff were set up to work from home and ready to confront the mountain of tasks. Our entire spring session and all planned events were cancelled or postponed, and exhibitions put on hold.
The big question we faced – how can we continue to serve the community?
As everything had changed, we had to figure out how to change too.
Within two weeks, we empowered many of our teachers to conduct their lessons and classes online from their home studios. Our children’s group music programs continued with pre-recorded classes which were sent to the parents.
Our short-term priorities were to continue to transition as many programs as possible online to allow students to continue their classes and lessons. With the entire province in lockdown mode, we understood how important it was to provide our students with an outlet for self-expression. Supporting our self-employed teachers and artists through teaching and exhibiting opportunities was also very important to us.
Looking ahead we went about the task of adapting upcoming summer and fall programs, preparing our facility for a phased re-opening, creating a safety plan and devising new ways to engage with youth and the community.
Our popular summer camps were completely re-imagined providing six weeks of 90-minute, weeklong online camps complete with curbside supply kits pickup. Phase I of our re-opening plan included an in-person camp at our facility which accommodated up to 10 students each week.
We created our first entirely pre-recorded virtual class with BC artist, Marlene Lowden, opening up Place des Arts to new people who may never have been able to attend classes.
We also created free video content for all ages and skill levels, including visual art activities like Lena Savic’s Bird Mobile and Stocking Stuffers for Christmas, and dance warm-ups with Ashley Binette that encouraged people to take care of themselves physically during the pandemic. Our annual performances for Place des Arts’ theatre groups, the Coquitlam Youth Theatre and the Summer Theatre Troupe, were transformed into digital productions Oh, What a Lovely War! 2.0 and Second Star to the Right, respectively. This allowed our youth to create something unique and perform even when it was difficult to do so. This also gave them a wider audience than in past years and an outlet to express their state of mind during COVID which has affected their age group so greatly.
We found ways to continue supporting artists. Our Exhibitions moved online, and we provided new ways to explore these exhibitions with Artist Studio Tours and a Behind the Artwork on our website that dived into the work and the artist’s style.
SEPTEMBER: PHASE II of our reopening plan
Phase II of our re-opening plan involved adapting every room in our facility. To start, we formed a Reopening Committee to help delegate tasks and manage all the work that needed to occur before the start of our 2020-2021 season in September. This included learning and understanding the safety guidelines as outlined by the Province and Worksafe BC, developing a comprehensive safety plan, creating signage, planning classroom layouts and technology needs, installing barriers and purchasing PPE. We constantly strived for the safety of our clients as the priority in all tasks. This extended to training our teachers how to run classes in their new formats and all the health and safety needs that had to be adhered to. With the ever-changing and evolving pandemic, the committee and Place des Arts as a whole had to be ready to handle developments and subsequent changes to guidelines as they came, which we did efficiently as a team.
Beginning in the fall our program offerings included both in-person and online classes and lessons, and the introduction of combination classes; a hybrid option that welcomed in-person and online students at the same time, providing students flexibility with the option to participate online from home depending on their level of comfort. We also offered a Ceramics At Home program for anyone who has taken an 8-week ceramics class at PdA. The program allowed students to work from home (whether that’s hand building or wheel throwing) and to have their works fired at PdA. These changes and adaptions to our programming required a tremendous amount of ingenuity and hard work but we were determined to find ways to continue to allow people to engage in the arts when the pandemic made it so hard for people to come together and feel a sense of normalcy.
Our annual Positively Petite show, which is 31 this year, ran in November and December and was extremely popular as an online and by-appointment exhibition. We also moved our Artisan Shop online, putting up images of everything available in our shop and allowing people to reserve items and make purchases over the phone. Providing for artists and promoting their work is an important part of what we do, and we worked hard to continue to be a space for them.
LAUNCHED OUR SEASON THEME OF BELONGING
We launched our new season with the theme of Belonging. With everyone separated and isolated, feeling that sense of belonging is more important than ever. When announcing our season our Executive Director, Joan McCauley, had this to say:
Home to our arts community expresses the sense of belonging we want you to feel at Place des Arts regardless of how you engage in our programs, be it online or in-person. Feeling like we belong is so vital to our health and wellbeing. Our ongoing efforts to strive to offer programs and events that are inclusive and accessible in an environment that is warm, welcoming, accepting and where people can feel they are a part of a community is how we foster belonging; “home” in the best sense.
2021 HERE WE COME
This year, things are far from “back to normal”, but we have leveraged the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over the last year to effectively and quickly respond to new developments as they come. We have learned from every hiccup, every roadblock and every challenge that came our way. This year, we were able to hold our first online event, Reflections, and most likely it will not be our last! We are excited to bring back our Online Auction this year to help raise funds for in-need children, teens and adults whose access to the arts has been made even more challenging during the pandemic. This goes hand-in-hand with our new program, Creative heARTs, which provides newcomer and low-income families with the opportunity to engage in visual arts workshops in their social bubbles at our facility. We have also made diversity and inclusion a priority this year and will be doing some meaningful work to ensure our organization truly is a welcoming home to the arts for everyone.
We are so proud of everything that we have been able to achieve this year, and we thank all of you for standing with us and supporting us.