Feed your inner, isolated art lover

    Here’s a list of arty stuff to see, do, watch and try. It’ll help you enjoy and understand the times we're in

    By Niall McKenna on April 28, 2020

    Photo: Getty Images

    Nothing stifles artistic expression. “Art production is like anything creative — you need focus, time to reflect, time to make mistakes,” says Sean Caulfield, ’92 BFA, ’96 MFA, Centennial Professor of Fine Arts at UAlberta. “And being in a situation where you're a bit isolated, those opportunities are maybe more present than before.”


    But how are you, the house-bound audience, supposed to enjoy the fruits of their labour? With concerts, festivals, plays, recitals, book tours and openings cancelled or postponed, you may wonder how you’ll feed your need for the arts. Fear not! Artists of all stripes have found innovative ways to show off their work, using isolation to make new creations that you can enjoy — or try — from home. We’ve compiled a list of free and paid options. They represent creative alumni offerings that do what art does best: help you understand and withstand the times. 


    1: You have a hankering for performance

    When the pandemic forced Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to postpone or cancel its season, executive director Chantell Ghosh, ’93 BA, ’97 LLB, and her team paid local artists, including some from its suspended productions, to create 39 pre-taped performances from their homes, called the Stuck-in-the-House Series. It includes Natércia Napoleão, ’16 BFA, and her bubble-bath rendition of the theme song from the 1980s sitcom Perfect Strangers, actors Jenny McKillop, ’08 BFA and Garett Ross, ’99 BFA, and their sketches chronicling a month-long descent into isolation madness, and the five-trombone medley pulled off by Audrey Ochoa, ’09 BMus, ’09 BEd.


    Multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya, ’03 BA, used Facebook Live to do a virtual cross-Canada tour for her second novel, The Subtweet, culminating with a reading, musical performance and Q&A as part of the National Arts Centre's #CanadaPerforms series. 


    2: You are a lover of visual arts

    Galleries like the one owned by Peter Robertson, ’83 BCom, are showing and selling new work online, so wear your sweats or get dressed up, pour yourself a beverage and enjoy. 


    The New York Academy of Art’s annual, star-studded Tribeca Ball student art show was also moved online, allowing new academy grad Maud Madsen, ’16 BFA, to sell at least one of her new paintings. Meanwhile, visual artist Maren Kathleen Elliott, ’16 BA, is launching her second solo show, Stringlism: Textures, Threads & Identity, online next month, complete with an opening night reception. 


    UAlberta Museums recently brought some of its Inuit art collection to new audiences with its new online virtual reality platform. The exhibit — Shifting Geographies: Inuit Art from the University of Alberta Art Collection — includes work by Marion Tuu'Luq, ’90 LLD (Honorary).


    3: You want to learn from the pros

    If you'd rather do than see, the time is right to learn from the experts who, like you, are stuck at home. You can finally start that novel, learn to meditate or dust off the guitar you haven’t touched in years, if at all. And don't feel pressured to create. There are plenty of ways to be a happy art spectator, too.


    Husband and wife team Dan Sabo, ’05 BEd, ’11 MMus, and Nella Sabo, ’05 BCom, ’12 MBA, have moved their business, the kid-geared Backbeat School of Rock, to Skype, while yoga teacher Sarah Dawne, ’13 BPE, is collaborating with Edmonton artists to offer online classes with live music


    Food writer Jennifer Cockrall-King, ’94 BA(Hons), is one of 14 authors offering writing seminars as part of the pop-up Pandemic University. The online learning opportunity is for and by writers, many of who have lost their incomes due to the pandemic. Jason Norman, ’06 BA, has helped the Writers’ Guild of Alberta transition to paid online seminars, too.


    Rapid Fire Theatre, an improv company that features several UAlberta alumni, has also moved its workshops online, with offerings for all ages. It’s a new approach that may be suitable for an introvert.


    High-school-teacher-turned-artist Kelly Klapstein, ’85 BEd, is teaching her elegant calligraphy, while Edmonton's poet laureate Nisha Patel, ’15 BCom, ’15 Cert(Leader) offers not only online performance and storytelling, but also mentorship and coaching. 


    UAlberta’s Orchesis Dance Performance Group celebrated International Dance Day on April 25 with a series of virtual workshops. Stay tuned for more offerings. 


    4: You want to see how the coronavirus inspires novel performances

    Zach Polis, ’12 BA, is St. Albert’s poet laureate, as well as being a filmmaker, photographer and writer. As poet laureate, he is a chronicler of the times. His recent offering, “It’s Okay to Cry Everything Holy”, is a salve for the worries that are never far. 


    Are your children or (for teachers) young students bored? Author Marty Chan, ’90 BA(Spec), reads his story about his gassy cat and tells a Chinese fable about a greedy thief. On Twitter, he offers to answer students’ questions about the writing process. He has also returned to one of his first loves — theatre — to write vignettes brought alive by actor Stephanie Wolfe, ’90 BFA. Their video series is called Letters of the Pandemic.  


    Meanwhile, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concertmaster and UAlberta sessional instructor, Robert Uchida, recently performed a series of violin solos in an empty Winspear Centre that capture the haunting stillness brought on by the pandemic. 


    The Faculty of Arts is accepting tales of isolation in virtually any creative medium for its Stories of the Pandemic project.


    Finally, stay tuned for an upcoming project: artist Sean Caulfield has partnered with his brother, Timothy Caulfield, ’87 BSc(Spec), ’90 LLB, UAlberta health law and policy expert, to explore how visual art (ranging from information design to more open fine art practices) can help stem the tide of COVID-19 misinformation.


    Of course this list is not exhaustive! Are there any artistic endeavours that we should know about? If so, please add links to other great art content from U of A grads in the comments below.


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