Godfrey Daniels located at 7 E Fourth St., is one of the local art venues in Bethlehem that has been affected by COVID-19. All of their performances are currently held virtually. (Shana Lichaw/B&W Staff)

Lehigh Valley arts centers get creative in adapting to pandemic closures

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The arts, something meant to bring a community together, have been devastated by the pandemic.

It has been the mission of many art venues in the Lehigh Valley to not only keep their businesses alive, but continue sharing art with the community in a meaningful and engaging way virtually and through limited in-person formats.

IceHouse Tonight

IceHouse Tonight has had their doors closed since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Doug Roysdon, founder of the venue and program, said if the pandemic didn’t happen, they would have had 115 shows last year. 

While the circumstances have been hard on those in the entertainment industry, especially on artist creativity, IceHouse Tonight was able to use this time to strengthen their program to be more credible and fundable, Roysdon said. 

He said one of the ways they have done this is by creating committees for music, poetry and production  so artists can be more involved in the planning.

As for performances, IceHouse is running a monthly virtual series titled “Live from IceHouse Tonight,” in which they record live and broadcast on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. They feature dance groups, local bands, local theater groups, comedians and poets, Roysdon said.

While Roysdon said he wishes they could hold these performances in person, which he is hopeful they will be able to do by September, there is an upside to having a virtual format: documenting the arts in the local community. 

Roysdon said virtual or not, IceHouse’s mission remains to share the local arts with the greater community.

“A live show begins two hours before the lights come on the stage because with a really great live show, you go out to eat with somebody,” Roysdon said. “You walk to the show and you run into people you know, and at the end of the show you go out for a beer – now that’s the show, that’s the public sphere. Now you take that and compare it to this thing called the pandemic, and it’s the exact opposite lifestyle and that’s pretty disappointing.”

Godfrey Daniels Coffee House

Managing director Ramona LaBarre said it would not be comfortable or safe to have anyone in Godfrey Daniels Coffee House, which is a small venue with a maximum capacity of 90 people.  

They have also been closed since last March.

The venue moved their operations online, live streaming one-hour weekly performances to their Facebook and YouTube channels. They have been featuring mostly solo artists, but have also had duo and trio artists. 

LaBarre said some of the artists social distance and wear masks even in the studios they record in to show support for COVID-19 protocols. 

While most of their acts are audience favorites, LaBarre said the virtual format has allowed them to get performers, such as John Hannam from Alberta, Canada, who otherwise might not be able to travel to Godfrey’s to perform in person. It has also allowed them to reach audience members who would otherwise not be able to attend the club in person, she said

LaBarre said the community has stepped up in supporting them and the arts during this time. Seeing this has made her miss the camaraderie and intimacy Godfrey’s offers as a community hub, she said.

“[People] knew that if they came to Godfrey’s, they were going to hear a fantastic artist,” LaBarre said. “They would also run into their neighbors, business associates, friends. It was definitely a place people would come and they knew they would see people from the community who they know and care about. We miss those gatherings.”

However, LaBarre said they have had successful engagement with their virtual programming, and she sees them continuing once they are able to operate normally.

Banana Factory

The Banana Factory has been conducting both virtual and in-person events.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the factory relied on Instagram to keep their audience engaged with projects like #quarantineartclub, in which they encouraged their followers to share things they were making at home. They also uploaded tutorials for crafts on their YouTube channel.

Nicole Gencarelli, visual arts special at the Banana Factory, said as restrictions decreased, the factory functioned in a hybrid format with virtual classes and a few outdoor in-person classes last summer.  They hope to continue the format this summer, she said. 

Banana Factory  has a virtual Celtic Knot Illustration Workshop on March 13, where members can pick up art kits from the factory before the virtual lesson.

The factory has also reopened their First Friday events, where members who register in advance are guided through certain galleries in distanced, limited capacity groups. 

Members may also join virtual artist talks and register for small in-person artist-led gallery tours.

Gencarelli said she thinks this time will inspire the community to have more visual arts in their lives, as well as appreciate the arts and in-person interactions more.

“We’re really looking forward to the day that things can open back up again and we’re really happy that we’ve been able to keep our audience engaged throughout all of this,” Gencarelli said. “That’s what has been keeping us going, is being able to know that our community is still there and we can still provide access to the arts for them.”

Gallery On Fourth

Lisa Kovacs, the founding director of Gallery On Fourth, said she did whatever she could to continue sharing art with the community even though members could not come inside the space.

“I kept my lights on 24/7 and I changed the works around in the front windows for no other reason than to give anyone who happened to be out and about something beautiful to look at to hopefully raise their spirits,” Kovacs said.

Some of those works came from artist Sean Carney, whose work was presented as both a virtual and window display exhibition titled “All Things Great and Small.”

Although the artworks remained on the walls, Kovacs said she added an all-virtual component to the exhibition in March, doing online promotion on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook — where she also held artist talks and virtual exhibition tours. 

Her increased virtual presence allowed her to reach people both nationally and internationally. She even had a few people buy works who had never come to the gallery, Kovacs said.

For art consumers, Kovacs made accommodations by offering credit card payment, money order or Venmo, as well as conducting curbside pickup and deliveries.

Once she was able to open her gallery back up, Kovacs offered limited capacity, appointment-only sessions in the gallery.

Kovacs said she had to postpone two of her exhibitions last year, which were rescheduled as the first two shows of 2021. Since being able to reopen her space in June, Kovacs has presented three full exhibitions.

She said these exhibitions did well with attendance and sales despite not being able to offer the usual complementary events such as opening and closing receptions, artist talks, guest speakers, music nights, poetry nights and film screenings.

Kovacs said opening a gallery is already a risky move and having to close nine months in due to the pandemic was stressful. However, despite this challenge, she said Gallery On Fourth did not just survive, it thrived.

Kovacs said she and community members are hungry to see art in person again. She said she can’t wait until full-scale, in-person events are deemed safe again.

“I am a real-life person,” Kovacs said. “I like one-on-one human contact with voices, with faces, being able to hug people when they’re excited, when an artist is excited because something sold, that’s what I miss the most. Having to eliminate all of the programming and events that promote the artist and their work and help connect them with an audience, that’s what I miss.”

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