Arts MV: A community conversation

Arts organizations address the pandemic together.

The ArtsMV collaborative, on their weekly Friday Zoom meeting. Left to right, top to bottom: Ann Smith, Posie Hager (both of Featherstone), Jesse Keller Jason (The Yard), Pam Butterick (Island Community Chorus). Pam Benjamin (Sense of Wonder Creations), Abby Remer (author), Heather Seger (MV Museum), Abby Bender (Built on Stilts). Roberta Kirn (Be Well Sing), MJ Munafo (MV Playhouse), Richard Paradise (MV Film Society), Nancy Gardella (MV Chamber of Commerce). Scott Crawford (PathwaysArts), Stephanie Burke (Island Theater Workshop), Brian Ditchfield (MV Film Festival), Katherine Reid (MV Playhouse). Andy Herr (music instructor). — Courtesy Featherstone Center for the Arts

It’s 11 on Friday morning. Do you know where your arts and cultural organizations are? It’s quite likely that their representatives are gathered together in front of their respective computer screens for their one-hour, weekly Zoom meeting of Arts MV.

Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone Center for the Arts, explains that the group was a response to the pandemic. Its very first Zoom meeting was April 17.: Smith invited the many arts and cultural groups that made up Arts Martha’s Vineyard, a collaborative that had begun 10 years earlier. She also reached out to individual artists and smaller arts organizations: “We had been a month into COVID, and I was thinking that it was important that all the arts and cultural groups touch base, since we all share common missions.” Members of the group stress how she has created a safe space to meet and think about how they could all safely reopen, and whether they were going to operate virtually.

Jesse Keller Jason, director of Island programs at the Yard says, “Pre-COVID, we all supported each other’s events when schedules allowed, but I was never catching up with peers on a regular basis. This has brought us closer, allowed for new collaborations, and it feels great to support fellow art makers, curators, producers during this time of distance and uncertainty. All the organizations are working hard to keep arts and culture alive, visible, and accessible to M.V. and beyond.”

Abby Bender of Built on Stilts agrees: “This group has connected me to the passionate powerhouses that lead the Island’s creative community, deepening my roots here and underscoring what a special home the Vineyard is.”

For Pam Butterick, president of the Island Community Chorus, things won’t get rolling again for a long time, so Arts MV is important because “ours will probably be the very last group to be able to resume rehearsals and prepare for concerts. Having said that, it’s very uplifting to Zoom with the M.V. arts community and hear how many others have been able to reinvent themselves and resume functioning in some capacity. The group, for me, serves as a platform for airing news, excitement, and yes, in our own case, some despair. We support each other by listening and encouraging.”

Roberta Kirn of BeWellSing says, “It has been a real pleasure to be included in the Friday conversations. I joined in April, a couple of months into the pandemic, when we were all really isolated. It was so great to connect with other people in the M.V. arts community to find out how they were faring, trade information and updates, and simply see and hear each other.”

Smith explains a vital component of the group: “We’ve done a lot of collaborative ventures together. Collaboration seems to be the theme of how we survive. Our first effort was on May 5, for the Day of Giving, and really tried to promote a unified message of how important art and culture are in everyday life.” The group also organized an advocacy campaign about how important it is to vote at the local, primary, and national level, and how that affects arts and culture. She continues, “Our big effort right now is an additional marketing campaign, Fall for the Arts, in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, to make it possible for all the creative people on the Island to have a voice and support. We’re asking artists to give a virtual tour of their studio, a reading, book talks, presentations. It can be literary arts, culinary arts, performing arts, music.”

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, urges everyone to submit information to her at nancy@mvy.com, along with images and ways for viewers to connect, whether that is listing a gallery where you are showing, or information about your Facebook page, Instagram, or website.

Gardella adds, “One of the things I love about this weekly meeting is that folks come together without judgment, and hold up and inspire one another. Ann has created a space that encourages everyone to express themselves, wherever they’re at, be it happy, sad, scared, or excited, so it feels very authentic and precious. I’m continually inspired by the fellowship and amazing creativity of this group — each and every one of them is looking for win-wins, looking to bolster one another, and our community.”

Scott Crawford, co-director of Pathways ARTS, agrees: “This weekly meeting has been invaluable in showing how the Island arts come together and support each other in the creation of art. I love how the community has banded together, supported each other, and enabled each other to keep moving forward. Art is vital to the human psyche, and to be able to continue making the process happen in these times gives all of us hope.”

MJ Bruder Munafo, artistic and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, stresses, “This connection with other local arts leaders and creative artists seems more important than ever.” And Richard Paradise, founder and executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, attests to the significance of the group’s collaborative spirit: “From the weekly group get-togethers, we learn from each other how to adapt to these uncertain times.”

Heather Seger, interim executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, shares, “The Arts MV group has also provided us with a safe space to bounce ideas off of one another and to support one another in our efforts to experiment with new ways of doing things during these strange COVID days. Although arts and culture organizations are not the front-line responders, we are definitely doing our part to nourish the soul of our community, to give hope and remind everyone that the Vineyard has pulled through challenging times before, and that we are stronger together.”

Smith stresses, “We try to lift each other up and support each other and come up with creative ideas of how we can make everybody visible.” And while it seems like we are in for the long haul with the pandemic, we are awfully lucky to have such a group to support those who nurture our hearts and souls.

Those interested in joining Arts MV should contact ann@featherstoneart.org.