This week on “Arts News” I caught up with Emily Frankoski, Director of Joplin’s arts agency Connect2Culture. Normally, she and I will do a monthly interview we call “Spotlight on Joplin,” but since the pandemic hit, we haven’t talked about how the arts community in Joplin has been getting along.
“We definitely haven't had as many in-person events,” she said, “but that doesn't mean that there hasn't been anything going on. I almost feel like we're as busy as ever, just planning and creating new virtual opportunities or taking what we were doing and bringing them online. Actually, we've created these things called ‘biweekly check ins,’ where all of the Joplin arts and cultural organizations come on to our Zoom meeting and we just kind of update each other, informing each other on when are we going to reopen, how are we going to reopen? Obviously adhering to the city of Joplin’s reopening guidelines, currently, we are not allowed to have any mass gatherings, more than 250. So it puts a wrench in our plans. For Connect2Culture specifically, it's kind of pushed our performing arts series off into 2021 spring, probably, just depending on how everything goes.”
In other words, they will have to postpone scheduled fall performances and events until the following spring.
“Yeah, we probably are,” said Frankoski. “Early on, whenever everything started shutting down, one of the productions that we were super-excited about having, they informed us that they'd have to cancel. It was planned for September 2020. So that one kind of went quickly. And then we originally were planning for October-November performances, and we just decided to make sure we keep everyone safe and ensure that we don't have to cancel or postpone. We just decided to move them into the spring. So we hope that cases of COVID go down so that those reopening guidelines become a little bit less strict. But in Joplin, there are kind of four phases. And right now we are in Phase Two of reopening. But currently, unfortunately, the COVID cases have gone up in this area.”
In addition to the bi-weekly check-in Zoom meetings among the arts groups—which strikes me as a great idea that they might well want to continue in the future, even as things get back to some semblance of “normalcy”—Emily Frankoski mentioned various virtual events or opportunities that are being offered to the general public.
“All of the organizations in Joplin have just been so creative. Some of them have done ‘Create to Go’ kits, where you can go pick up some art supplies and then take them home and create your own artwork. There's a similar kind of a pottery studio that's done that. Vintage Swing Movement Joplin has been doing a lot of online--either Facebook Live or I think they might be doing Zoom as well--learn how to swing dance in the comfort of your own home. You don't have to embarrass yourself in person! You just do it in the middle of your living room.
“Also, Studio 124 is a theater group that has done a Facebook Live production actually—it was a murder mystery. I think they're planning on doing some more like that. And many have done artist interviews or classes online.” Emily herself recently participated in one to refresh her Photoshop skills. “So that was pretty cool. And I hope that these creations online are just going to continue whenever we get to do our regular programming, because I could just see them being so beneficial for some people who would rather have that option. So I guess it's made us all dream up new ways, and encouraged us to be a little bit more ‘virtual,’ and I think it can only make us stronger in the end.”
Connect2Culture has a major virtual event planned for late July, said Frankoski. “Coming up July 28, we're going to still host our annual Joplin Arts and Cultural Preview event; this is going to be the fifth annual--but we're bringing it online. So this event will hopefully get 30 or so different arts and cultural organizations presenting for two minutes (each) about what they're all about, what’s their story, what kind of events they've got coming up this year, and why people should be interested. So we're going do our first Facebook Live stream from a Zoom webinar. Hopefully,” she added, “everything goes well, no technological issues. But we'll also record that, so that people can go back and look. And, you know, I think at that point we'll really see how it's shaping up just going forward, because I think a big frustration (for artists and arts groups) has just been not being able to set anything in stone, just planning and then changing. And it would be nice to make a plan and actually be able to execute it. I know that everyone is really itching to getting back to offering performances or classes or anything arts and cultural, in-person very soon.”
Certainly Connect2Culture’s own website, https://www.connect2culture.org, is a prime source of all this information and more, in the form of an extensive monthly Joplin area arts calendar. Well, it hasn’t been quite so extensive for the past few months, but it didn’t go away either, said Frankoski.
“Yes, we continue to do that. In the very beginning (of the Coronavirus pandemic) it was very strictly ‘creative alternatives,’ things to enjoy at home. And now there's a bit of both (virtual and in-person) kinds of events. It's still quite a lengthy list, and every month we have seen a lot more events being added to it.”