The arts and the artists

By Catherine Crawford

The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on our nation’s arts sector. Since the first U.S. case was reported on January 20, 2020, cancellations and closings have taken place at thousands of arts organizations across the country, and 85% of the nation’s artists are now unemployed. 

Benicia has long been considered an art town boasting one of the most active and influential art communities in the Bay Area. Hundreds of artists live and work in studios throughout the city, creating a variety of world-class pieces. In addition to the visual arts, Benicia is also home to a thriving performing arts scene. Benicia Ballet, VOENA, Old Town Theatre Group, Benicia Literary Arts and many more. That was before the pandemic. Now, most galleries are closed or have reduced capacity and the theatre and music venues have shuttered. 

Long time Benicia artist Diane Williams talks about how the life as an artist in the time of COVID.


Coping Together in Isolation

Artists find connection in times of social distancing 

By Diane Williams

Like artists everywhere, I have found the spring and summer of this Covid-19 crisis to be a challenge in every aspect of life, including my creative process. Oddly, I discovered that Covid has potentially altered my artistic course. 

My usual approach to making art felt disingenuous. I suddenly had the urge to express physical strength on the canvas. To do this, I put my painting on the floor, and with a huge Chinese mop brush, put my entire body into a brush stroke. The contrast between bold physicality and meditative calm was the combination that helped me cope with a situation outside of my control. 

In talking with other Benicia artists, I realized we were each searching for ways to use our art to cope with Covid. My husband and studio partner, Chuck Potter, feels that many local artists seem to be taking advantage of more studio time. “I’ve been able to give studio time a priority,” he said, “It has let me push my artwork in directions that interest me.” 

Benicia artist Merry Gregg used the shelter in place as a time to reassess her in-home studio. She wanted to make her studio “video worthy” so that she could do a virtual open studio. “It’s exciting for me to think about ways to make the studio more visually beautiful as well as functional,” she said.

Feelings of being overwhelmed by the current situation have made it hard for artist Stephanie Gray to concentrate on the work she was doing prior to Covid. “I know art can be healing, but with everything the way it is, I find myself questioning its relevance,” Gray said. By using collage to put Geisha and Samurai prints in comical situations, she has turned to humor in her work to amuse herself and add levity to a difficult situation.

In addition to how artists make art, the global pandemic has altered the way artists present their work. In Benicia, the spring usually means gearing up for Arts Benicia’s Open Studios, traditionally held the first weekend in May. Open Studios, like most other art events, had to be cancelled this year. 

Like many artist instructors, Chuck and I also were forced to cancel the workshops we’ve offered in our studio for 15 years. But we wanted to find a way for our students to continue to meet, learn and share, especially in times of stress and isolation. Many people have said our classes are like art therapy, so we felt a need to stay connected. 

As a result, we, like many others, turned to online teaching. Teaching virtually has allowed us to continue our established classes as well as offer private and semi-private mentorships. It has expanded our reach as well. We now have students from out of state, and inquiries from as far away as New Zealand and the U.K. 

Like the rest of the world, Benicia artists are searching for ways to cope and to be creative during the stress of Covid-19. Some are struggling to move forward, others have found it to be a time for planning or renewed creative energy. For me, painting has been a way to heal, a path that allows me to calm the spirit and embrace the current condition. As a community of artists, we have found ways to adapt and connect on levels that are beyond the physical.

The arts in Benicia need our support. Please consider giving to one of Benicia’s arts organizations below.

Arts Benicia, Benicia Ballet, VOENA, Benicia Film Festival, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group, Benicia Literary Arts, Benicia Library, Benicia Historical Museum