CREATE Community Studios was founded on the idea of bringing people together to express themselves through art. With the spread of COVID-19, CREATE has had to completely redefine what that means.
“The whole reason we exist is to promote community togetherness and that means being together physically. We’re really trying to reframe what that looks like,” said Heather Hutchison, co-founder of CREATE.
As of last week, the studios, both in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, had a full schedule of classes and workshops lined up for the spring, including writing workshops, watercolor classes, open studio time, etc. In the last few days, the nonprofit has had to cancel most of its events, taking a financial hit and leaving them with a new challenge: figuring out how to serve the community from a distance.
Thus, earlier this week, they started a daily video series called “Taking Care,” offering a range of art prompts for people to do at home.
“We’re starting with self-care and grounding strategies since everyone’s feeling really anxious and like none of this is in our control right now. The idea is we’ll have at least one video or art prompt up a day. Then we hope that people will share their art with us either by email or send us a message and we’ll post it or post it in the comments section,” Hutchison said.
The first prompt, which was posted to the studios’ Facebook page on Monday, guides viewers through making a mandala, a geometric configuration of symbols and shapes. The next guides people through a “Map to Calm” project, which helps people identify their anxieties or fears and find ways to manage them. Each prompt requires materials that most have around the house, like glue, scissors, paper, etc.
Beyond the “Taking Care” initiative, CREATE plans to continue on with select small group projects for those who need it most.
“We work a lot with teens at the [Schenectady] high school and they’re really stressed out about the idea of being home all day or not having a place to go. We’re going to be running some very limited groups by invitation only for those students that we know need a place to gather and de-stress,” Hutchison said.
One of the projects they’re working on is fence art on Jay Street, across from Schenectady City Hall. Over the weekend, they wove a rainbow, using ribbon and fabric, into the fence. Some high school students will be adding to it in the coming days and Hutchison encourages community members to feel free to add their own ribbons and fabric to it.
“There’s a blank canvas there that we could all just add things to. A source of love, kindness and inspiration,” Hutchison said.
CREATE is also running a “Taking Care” box drive. Each box is filled with art-making supplies (paints, colored pencils, markers, etc.) and art project prompts. They can be ordered for pick up at one of the CREATE studio locations for $30. For an additional $20, CREATE will give another box to agencies like Shelters of Saratoga, New Choices, Wellspring and the Schenectady Community Action Program. The donations will also help to off-set some of the lost revenue from class cancelations and are an immediate thing that CREATE can give to the community, said Hutchison.
While CREATE and many other nonprofits are dealing with serious financial loss, Hutchison has found hope and local support. The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region has set up a COVID-19 response fund and people in the Capital Region do seem to want to rally behind local non-profits and small businesses.
“Non-profits, we’re good at trying to adapt to community needs and that’s definitely what’s happening so it’s really amazing to see,” Hutchison said.