Visual Arts

How Idaho Falls Arts Council is keeping arts alive in community during the pandemic

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IDAHO FALLS — The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the Idaho Falls Arts Council to find new ways to interface with the community while following guidelines to control the spread of the virus. Along the way, the Arts Council has found new channels for bringing arts to the people of Idaho Falls.

When the pandemic began, the Arts Council’s first challenge was determining if it would even be able to operate at all.

“It ground us to a halt,” Arts Council Executive Director Brandi Newton told EastIdahoNews.com. “In the beginning, it was like, ‘What’s the nuclear option? How are we going to survive? Do we need to board up the windows and send everybody home and come back when it’s all over?’”

After considering a complete shutdown, the Arts Council’s leadership and Board of Directors concluded it was important to continue to pursue the mission of keeping the arts alive in the community, even during a time when big gatherings for shows and concerts weren’t possible.

“(The decision) was if we believe in art experiences, if we believe that art is part of your life and is crucial to expression and healing, then we need to find a way,” Newton said.

The next obstacle to tackle was the logistics of getting performances out to an audience that couldn’t attend in person.

“Starting with the River Concerts, it was, ‘How can we socially distance everyone?’” said Newton. “We quickly found out this summer that you can’t. The city shut us down with that because we couldn’t limit how many people were on the Green Belt.”

With in-person concerts out of the question, the Arts Council began broadcasting the River Concert performances from the Colonial Theater. These shows gave artists a chance to perform while making use of local venues left empty by COVID, all while the audience streamed the shows from the safety and comfort of home. The council continued to stream shows with its “Live from the Colonial” series in the fall.

But concerts aren’t the only way the Arts Council has kept the arts alive during COVID. It has also found ways to deliver experiences in visual arts to families. Through the ARTitorium on Broadway, families can pick up take-home art projects that teach and entertain.

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Other adjustments have had to be made, including capping attendance at the October 2020 Dance Showcase to allow for proper social distancing of audience members.

Dealing with restrictions and complications presented by the pandemic has been a struggle for the Arts Council, and Newton praised supporters and donors for helping them keep the lights on.

“We’re lucky to have supporters that have been long-term, mission-driven supporters,” she said. “Our goal is to ensure that our facilities will always be available. But right now, it really is how do we not just survive, but how do we sustain. So PPP (Payment Protection Plan) loans were a savior to us. Grant money has been a savior to us. Our long-term supporters are saviors to us. The random $200 membership gift across the internet is a saving grace.”

“The Board of Directors committed last June that we would do whatever we could to survive for a year without having to do anything drastic,” Newton said. “We’ve been really lucky and blessed that people have seen us as a value, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Although the struggle has had its costs, from laying off employees to having a void of creative energy at unused venues, the Arts Council has also learned valuable lessons in the COVID crisis. One of the most powerful has been the value of the take-home art experience.

“Grab-and-go I think is a great example of how even we as an organization get tunnel vision about what we think our representation of the mission is,” Newton said. “We were all about bringing you here and ‘How can we get you here?’ versus ‘Here. I can send some of this to you, and it’s still serving the goal of you having an art experience. You don’t have to be sitting right here next to us.’”

For now, the Idaho Falls Arts Council will continue to search for innovative ways to interface with the community. Meanwhile, the Carr and Hall Galleries are open, and you can even call ahead for an appointment, should you be nervous about being around other people and want to have the galleries all to yourself. Visit the Arts Council website or Facebook page for more information.

Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com

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