08 Jul 2020 Lee County Alliance of the Arts’ Artful Response to Trying Times
As the convergence of perilous disease in the air and transformational social unrest on the streets has created anxiety that sets our hearts, minds and souls on edge, an invaluable emotional outlet that is uniquely human exists in the expressive possibilities of the arts.
The arts heal. The arts connect. The arts channel pent up feelings to healthy release – whether despair, stress or outrage. But these days, the arts themselves have had to become more artful in the way they sustain community and provide both a mirror of, and an outlet for, our humanity.
For the Lee County Alliance of the Arts, whose membership includes 50+ area arts and cultural organizations and more than 1,200 artists and individual members, COVID-19 has required the nonprofit to get creative in how it serves, and seeks to reflect, the community through its programs.
Executive Director Lydia Black says, “We are very much focused on continuing to look at what the arts can do to transform lives and communities, and how we can help elevate conversations that contribute to that.”
One of the ways the Alliance is working to harness the power of the arts to nurture and grow positive change is through its aptly named CHANGE Program, which is designed to promote equity, diversity and dialogue within the arts as it provides greater access to artistic expression for people of color through acting and playwriting classes, with an eye to supporting and amplifying the voices of traditionally marginalized communities.
Whether it’s a theatrical performance, an art exhibition, a musical event or a range of classes and workshops for the community, physical gatherings have always been central to the Alliance’s programs. But all that changed with the suddenness of reality’s fingers flicking clashing paint onto a canvas.
Ms. Black says, “It was a challenge to pivot from a place known for bringing people together to physically make connections and introduce people to artwork or our book club or getting artists and kids together, or hosting farmers offering fresh produce to the community at our Green Market.”
But the organization that has been a community mainstay for 45 years reimagined how to offer its programs in ways that could coexist with COVID-19’s social-distancing requirements, even if it meant the farmers market’s fresh produce was drive-through only.
“It’s been a matter of our staff and crew who have managed to take some tried-and-true programming and pivot into new realms to help keep our member communities connected virtually,” she says.
Such online offerings include Best Seat in Your House, a series of one-act plays that creates opportunities for area actors to perform safely from home; Arts Trivia Night; and virtual classes and workshops for people of all ages who’ve had to remain socially distanced. Ms. Black says, “We’ve had quite a bit of an increase in the interest surrounding our adult classes, so that’s been a great way to stay engaged.”
The Alliance’s executive director says the enduring presence and support of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, particularly the stability it provides the nonprofit community during unstable times such as these, has been enormously important. The arts organization received a Community Foundation 2020 grant to support its programs focused on addressing equity issues.
““It has been a true pleasure and an honor to work with an organization that truly cares about the health and wellness of the nonprofits in our area,” she says. “When COVID hit, some of our facility had to close, and it removed options to present those programs here. It was a huge relief knowing the Foundation had made those dollars unrestricted, allowing us to pivot that programming in a new direction during these difficult times.”
As the Alliance continues to plan for a return to more normal operations, the organization has pressed ahead with the installation of a visually arresting sculpture titled the Caloosahatchee Water Wall. Rising along McGregor Boulevard on the Alliance grounds, it reminds the community to take a moment of pause amidst the anxiety and uncertainty and appreciate that there remains beauty and inspiration all around us.
The towering piece of public art by internationally acclaimed artist Michael Singer is turning heads as the capstone on the Alliance’s ArtsPark, whose highlights include new crosswalks, pathways, lighting, landscaping that reflects Southwest Florida’s ecosystems and a retention basin that is more effective at collecting and cleaning stormwater.
“We’ve been working on the project over the last two years, and the water wall installation pulls it all together,” Ms. Black says of the 25-foot sculpture that sweeps up water from the ArtsPark pond and filters it before allowing the water to flow back down to nurture plants and soils at its base.
As Southwest Florida, too, continues to pull together as a community, it seems fitting that the dazzling Caloosahatchee Water Wall is an instance of art helping to soothe the challenges of these unprecedented times, its water flowing in a rejuvenating cycle of art imitating life.
This article is part of a summer series that highlights the vital work of regional recipients of 2020 Community Impact Grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.