Through Sept. 26, the San Benito County Arts Council is hosting this year’s Open Studios exhibitions. The Open Studios tour usually takes art appreciators to the homes and studios of participating artists. The danger of COVID-19, however, has pushed this year’s tour online.
“I used to do a lot of outdoor shows and sales, a lot of outdoor exhibits, but of course we can’t do that with COVID,” said ceramicist and painter Cindy Couling. “So we’re going to try to be a little bit more creative, and opportunities like the Arts Council has opened doors for us.”
“This has been such a busy time,” oil painter Julianna O’Hara said. She’s kept up with Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society, American Women Artists, and other organizations during the shutdown. O’Hara has also hosted two shows, taken Zoom classes every Monday from the Art Students’ League of New York, and is working on the Strada Easel Challenge, in which she produces one painting from life each day for a month.
“The lockdown is great for artists, because we’re able to paint more,” O’Hara said.
Couling agreed: “Actually it’s been kind of cool with the shutdown because I haven’t felt the pressure to produce for specific shows. I’ve been having a little bit more fun doing more creative projects that I have in mind.”
Mixed-media painter Allison Barnes has been experimenting with other artistic media such as watercolors, inks and pens.
Some of the participating artists have already started to promote themselves and sell their creations online. Automotive painter Sylas Jumper and all the other artists interviewed for this article have Instagram accounts. Jumper said he has done custom paint jobs for motorcycle clients in Los Angeles and New York since the shutdown began.
“Instagram has kinda kept me busy,” he said. “I put stuff on there and it pretty much gets you known worldwide once you get several followers. That’s where I’ve gotten most of my customers.”
O’Hara said she sells 80% of her painting via her website or Instagram.
Couling also said that artists are currently networking, showing off their own (and each other’s) work on the internet, and sometimes in real life.
Artist Laurie Tholen has worked with metals and jewelry for over 30 years. Before the shutdown, she taught her craft after school in Marina.
“I started out this year knowing that I needed to grow my social networking outreach,” Tholen said, so she opened Instagram and Facebook accounts and set about “getting myself seen.” All her works are for sale on Etsy: “I’m now trying to sell everything virtually.”
The artists all praised the Art Council’s efforts to foster culture in San Benito County.
“I think the Arts Council in Hollister is growing,” Jumper said. “It’s bringing in new diversity, it’s bringing in new artists that are moving in, so I do think it’s doing a lot of good things.”
Barnes said the Arts Council has held weekly meetings with individual artists, and put on shows every so often. The reportedly shy Barnes added that “the Arts Council has made me feel very comfortable being able to share and feel good about my own artwork.”
Couling said the council has helped older artists make the transition to social media, and O’Hara said she started working with the Arts Council after meeting representatives at the San Benito County Fair last fall. “I’m upset I didn’t join sooner.
“Even Oil Painters of America doesn’t have the resources that our council does,” said O’Hara. “It’s really phenomenal, and [Arts Council Marketing and Brand Manager] Heidi Jumper is just so full of ideas, for Instagram, and best practices, and your website.”
Couling said, “I think they do a phenomenal job for us. They’re thinking outside the box right now. Having the shutdown didn’t stop them from having this virtual marketplace. The idea of the happy hour has been totally cool, and I think it’s going to change the way we do things in the future, for the better.”
The Arts Council will host a happy hour on Zoom at 6 p.m. on Sept. 18.
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