ArtsQuest, a community-focused arts organization in Bethlehem, is providing arts, cultural and educational programming virtually in light of COVID-19, through a digital platform called ArtsQuest at Home.
Due to social distancing regulations, ArtsQuest cannot host any events or programs in person. ArtsQuest at Home is a new virtual initiative created by ArtsQuest to bring the arts into homes across the region.
The digital events include live stream concerts, comedy shows, online film screenings, creative workshops, toddler storytime and much more.
Mark Demko, senior director of communications for ArtsQuest, said in the first phase of ArtsQuest at Home, content was aggregated on the website such as live streams from national musicians.
In the second and current phase of ArtsQuest at Home, original content is being produced and procured by the ArtsQuest team. Over 100 new programs have been added to the ArtsQuest at Home page at this point, Demko said.
“The focus has been to engage, entertain and, especially, connect audiences during this time of social distancing, through music and art,” Demko said. “Music and art has this incredible way of lifting spirits and bringing people together, especially during times of crisis.”
An example of a modified program introduced through ArtsQuest at Home is a virtual toddler storytime with Lisa Harms, senior director of visual arts and education. This programming usually occurs in person at the Banana Factory to engage families and help with early childhood learning. Demko said Harms puts these storytimes on live streams from her living room to keep families entertained.
ArtsQuest was very proactive in responding to the developing COVID-19 situation. They are still making sure they can provide resources for their community to learn and engage from home during social distancing, Demko said.
“We closed our buildings just prior to Gov. Wolf issuing the stay-at-home order a few weeks ago,” Demko said. “The health, safety and well-being of everyone who works in our organization, supports ArtsQuest and attends our programmings is absolutely our top concern and priority.”
The full-time staff at ArtsQuest has been working remotely for the past few weeks, while the part-time employees are temporarily not being scheduled due to the closing of the facilities to follow social distancing measures.
Cindy Karchner, vice president of human resources for ArtsQuest, said updates are being provided to staff members on a daily basis from the president and CEO of ArtsQuest, Kassie Hilgert, to ensure everyone is well-informed following the transition to working remotely.
“We truly have the most incredible team here,” Karchner said. “Everyone is so engaged and so eager to find a way to make the current situation more normal. The team is constantly providing ideas to help us get through this.”
Many students from local universities are currently employed by ArtsQuest as interns, including Lehigh students.
Madeline Hoffman, a Lafayette College senior, is a public relations intern with ArtsQuest this semester. Hoffman has moved to working remotely and said she is still in constant communication with the ArtsQuest team.
“Now that my school went online, and ArtsQuest itself is also working remotely, I am still able to do all of my assignments — I just do them from home now,” Hoffman said. “I have had calls and Skype meetings with my supervisors. They have been intentional in including me in everything that I would have been involved in if we were in person.”
Hoffman said she appreciates ArtsQuest keeping her involved in her regular responsibilities and tasks.
In terms of looking ahead to the future, Demko said their main focus has been canceling as few programs as possible. ArtsQuest has been trying to postpone as many shows and performances as possible for later in the year or early 2021.
“Artists and artist management have been wonderful to work with,” Demko said. “One of the great things we are seeing is that everyone is coming together in this time of crisis to try to make things work and reschedule events for when we are able to safely come back together in person.”
There will be opportunities to support ArtsQuest at Home efforts on its website and social media in the coming days. Gift cards are also available for purchase to support ArtsQuest and can be used for future concerts, cinema and comedy programming, workshops, and food and beverage.
Karchner said ArtsQuest at Home is an option for students to continue to engage with ArtsQuest.
“The cool thing is that students, even if you are not here, can join in from wherever you now are,” Karchner said.