What to do? What to do?

September 2020

Thunder Bay responded to the pandemic this spring and summer with colour and style. Beautiful gardens of flowers and vegetables took over spaces that once yielded plain ordinary grass and plentiful weeds. Signs of encouragement on household windows and simple hellos from strangers were all the more welcoming when social distancing became the norm. People became more attentive to nature and their surroundings, and took the time to, pardon the cliché, smell the roses.

However, with fall and winter arriving soon, we’re going to need something else to keep us sane, and Thunder Bay artists have just the right thing for us.

Pottery anyone?

Noël Keag of Stone Circle Pottery is thinking outside – or perhaps we should say – inside the box – for upcoming lessons. Since pottery classes are next to impossible to run the usual way, Keag has developed box kits for her pottery lessons. Students who enroll in her classes simply order their kits complete with clay and tools, and on the appointed day and time, watch and learn, pinch, roll and prod, via Zoom.

“I’ve had to learn more about technology and adapt,” Keag says. “But even though a screen separates us, I’ve noticed that our lessons still develop a sense of community, something that as an artist I crave, we all crave, especially during these times.”

During the spring and summer, Keag offered classes on folded bowls and goblets – projects that were both challenging and enjoyable – with the goal of taking people away from the pandemic mindset and giving them a creative distraction. Once the projects were completed and brought to Keag, then fired and returned, participants remarked on how they felt “creatively fulfilled” and appreciated their reminders of the joy of the creation process.

With the third phase of openings, Keag has rearranged her studio and is teaching classes again – but this time with less students. This fall, she’ll be offering a plate making kit, and later, a Christmas tree ornament workshop.

For more information on upcoming classes, visit www.stonecirclepottery.com

And how about a little painting?

Deena Kruger and Steve Gerow from The Creative, offered in-studio painting classes before the new regulations came into place. Their main focus was to bring people together, inspire creativity and build confidence. Patrons painted as they snacked and listened to the classics on a record player in the background. It was simply delightful.

But things are a little different now – somewhat. With a lot of encouragement from their patrons Kruger decided to create a website and form a formal business to maintain contact with their painting community. They took the images from Steve’s paintings, copied them onto canvas, and created kits including everything a person would need to paint from home. They then mastered the art of Zoom and created videos of lessons that can be seen on their facebook page and website.

The idea caught on so quickly that The Creative is now taking orders for their kits by the hundreds and are proud to be serving the Lakehead Public and Catholic school boards in Thunder Bay, First Nations communities, and other organizations in Northwestern Ontario such as senior centres and businesses looking for team building activities.

“The interesting thing about our kits is that both adults and kids enjoy doing them,” Gerow states. “And they give everyone a chance to focus on creating rather than on all of the restrictions now in our lives.”

For more information go to https://www.thecreativetbay.ca/about/

And how about something for the body and mind? Yoga anyone?

When Covid-19 hit, Colleen Dolce of Radiant Yoga with Colleen, offered free online yoga lessons to help relieve the stress the pandemic was creating in people’s lives. “I wanted to help my students and stay in contact with them through this challenging time, and I wanted to help others too.” When people said that they wanted to pay, Dolce began to accept donations and by the third week of lessons she decided to set a fee of $10 for a one-hour lesson. “Teaching yoga isn’t a side job for me,” she states. “It is my income and I was happy to be employed during this time.”

As with anything new, there are always adjustments.

“It was a bit of a comedy sketch when I first started doing the lessons on Zoom. The first few minutes consisted of a barrage of questions: ‘Can you hear me?’ ‘Can you see me?’ But by the second week I had it all mastered – somewhat.”

Now classes are viewed in people’s homes from Thunder Bay to Texas, and the sense of community is growing. While Dolce worried that she would lose contact with her students, the opposite seems to have happened. Although everyone is given the option to go off camera, most people stay on and offer glimpses of their homes to the others. On occasion Dolce’s students will see a baby from a young mother’s home crawl across the screen or a dog offering a goofy expression as it sniffs its owner’s laptop, or one or two or more students practicing their yoga poses in their pajamas.

During the classes all is quiet except for Dolce providing instruction and a little bit of guitar accompaniment by her husband, John, but after the lesson the mics go on and anyone can join in the after-hour chat. “And they chat and laugh, and it’s wonderful to hear,” Dolce says.

Dolce says her classes will likely continue like this for quite a while and she’s open to welcoming new students anytime. Go to www.radiantyogawithcolleen.com

And perhaps a little time tickling the ivories…

When the schools shut down in March, Suzanne Gilmore of Musical Discovery with Suzanne knew that she had to adapt quickly to the possibility of the schools staying closed for the rest of the year. Getting a hold of two webcams, one to focus on the piano and the other on herself, Gilmore started her virtual lessons almost immediately with very little disruption in her students’ schedules.

Like many artists, Gilmore has noticed some positive outcomes because of the change. “I now create videos of me playing specific songs for each student, along with commentaries on finger positioning, tips, etc., and email it to each student after their lesson so they have something to watch while practicing at home.” To maintain a connection with the children, Gilmore also creates special events like Musical Jeopardy and Beach Party theme days that allow everyone to socialize via Zoom. “The kids love it, and I love it too. I really miss them and it gives us the chance for some interaction. And it keeps us going.”

When it came time to wrap things up for the school year Gilmore couldn’t let a thing like social distancing cancel the annual concert. Arrangements were made, timetables set, and a virtual concert was hosted for everyone and their families to see. “It was almost even better,” Gilmore says with a smile. “One student’s grandparents in Germany were able to join in and watch. It really made his day.”

If you’re interested in piano, guitar, or voice lessons for adults or children, go to suzannegilmore.wordpress.com

And how about a little group painting?

Paint nights are back! Cathie Di Blasio and Katy Sayers of Giant Heart Art Studio are happy to say that their ever popular, group-gathering, painting, discovering-your-creative side, event nights, are now in full swing.

Di Blasio couldn’t consider the option of closing her business when Covid-19 hit simply because she had invested so much into it after recently leaving her job. She began to work on commission painting and doing pet portraits to fill in the time but she knew that her paint nights needed to continue sometime. When phase 3 took away certain restrictions, it was a welcome relief to start offering them again.

“I’ve had to make modifications of course,” Di Blasio says, “Including reducing class sizes and hosting some parties outside, but it’s still the same amount of fun and enjoyment for everyone. Now people are able to pick their group, decide on the location, and I show up with the canvasses and supplies.” Social distancing is practiced, of course, and since everyone in the group knows each other there is a feeling of security.

As one patron wrote in a review – that encourages every artistically challenged person – “Cathie and Katy are so awesome. They make you feel like you can paint anything. Tons of fun!”

For more information visit Cathie and Katy on facebook at Giant Heart Art Studio Thunder Bay.

These are just a small sample of what local artists are providing for the people in Thunder Bay to tap into their creative side and pass away the cool weather – and Covid-19 – blues. So, take advantage of the times, enjoy some creating, relaxing, and energizing time with your friends and family, or simply yourself. It will be good for the soul.

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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