ArtForceIowa is offering workshops during these trying times. Photo: ArtForceIowa.
By Rachel Vogel Quinn
When Yvette Zaród Hermann, arts outreach educator at ArtForceIowa, prepares for the workshops she’s been facilitating on Facebook Live the past two weeks, she carefully lays out her supplies and writes a materials list for participants. But the viewers comment most about her cat walking in front of the screen.
“I’m learning that being authentic, as opposed to giving information, is what people crave right now,” says Hermann.
Founded in 2013, ArtForceIowa runs two art-focused programs: one for refugee youths and another for teenagers involved in the juvenile or family court system. When the nonprofit canceled studio workshops in early March due to the pandemic, the staff of four wondered how they could keep supporting their participants.
Their brainstorming led to ArtFul Connections, a series of online art workshops and performances that feature drawing, coloring, woodcarving, live music and capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art. Local professional artists, who work as artist mentors for the nonprofit, host online workshops in their area of expertise over the lunch hour.
“We know that, at this time, art does heal,” says executive director Christine Her.
By using Facebook Live, ArtForce is expanding their audience beyond their usual participants. People from all over the community are logging on to watch the videos live or view them later. By limiting the activities to common household materials—such as crayons, colored pencils or just a highlighter and pen—community members without previous art experience can easily join in.
Hermann encourages people to “take a break” from anxiety and information overload to connect with others through art. “ArtFul Connections is about coping,” Her says. “It’s about connecting to your artful self, your childhood self. We want you to be able to cope through this difficult time. We want you to feel connected and know that we are all in this together.”
ArtForceIowa plans to continue the virtual series after the pandemic ends and studio workshops resume. But the organization faces funding challenges, as many of their grant opportunities have dried up in the past month. As yet, they don’t have outside funding for the program. But Her wants to keep it going as long as possible.
“Art does transform lives,” she says. “And it does heal. Everybody needs it. Wherever you are, you can do it with whatever you have.”