At first glance, the park in Kelsey's neighborhood seemed quiet -- lifeless -- in the 2020 summer heat. But past the empty sidewalks, Kelsey Milian Lopez noticed two people dancing. The partners twirled together on the grass. Even when their hands didn’t touch, the dancers moved to the same beat. The music tied them together.
Over the summer, music was also building community across the Atlantic Ocean. In Italy, Maurizio Marchini made international news as he sang opera from his balcony for his quarantined neighbors.
During COVID-19, dubbed “the loneliest pandemic,” digital technologies connect Lopez and countless others to a world of art - just like the music connected the dancers. Lopez remarks that seeing the dancers in the park reminded her "that I am not alone." Inspired by the dancers and her own passion for art, Lopez embraced art to connect with people during quarantine. Even more, young artists like Lopez are turning to digital platforms like social media to share their art and cultivate human connections. Sharing art online helped Lopez reclaim her community, even as many people were stuck indoors.
How COVID-19 is Impacting Art and Artists
With numerous galleries and museums closed during COVID-19, more artists than ever before are adopting digital tools to fight isolation. Moving to a new city is challenging, but Lopez moved from Miami during the COVID-19 outbreak. As Lopez adjusted to her new life, she noticed that many NYC-based Latinx organizations and businesses were shuttered. Lopez has long created art to explore her heritage. One of her paintings features colorful Días de los Muertos skeletons wrapped in an eternal embrace. As she creates this art, Lopez likewise embraces her own ancestry. So to feel like she belonged in her new city, Lopez once more turned to the arts. She performed a poem on her Facebook page called “Miami Girl.” In her poem, Lopez describes how many Latinx people share “a nomadic mindset wherever we go, looking for the next thrill.” Now that she is stuck in quarantine, Lopez has joined online arts groups to find this thrill. These digital art platforms helped her strengthen her existing friendships from Miami and build new bridges to the Latinx community in New York City.
Technologies such as social media allow artists like Lopez to reach a wider audience as they broadcast live arias or post recordings of their poetry. Lopez created a creative writing workshop to socialize with other writers. She says, “Sharing space, even virtually, is vital during this time. There is an opportunity to share our art with the world in a faster way. It helps us elevate the voices of those sometimes not heard and tell their stories.” This Zoom workshop is a sanctuary for Lopez. The virtual discussion provides a welcome relief after months of isolation spent in a now-sleepy New York City.
In the journal Othering & Belonging, Arlene Goldbard describes how people like Lopez use art spaces, like a Zoom writing workshop, to find belonging: “In a social context, art can cultivate much-needed empathy and social imagination. People come together because they want to share stories.” And as Lopez has realized, when we share our stories with other people, we can cultivate deeper friendships and make new connections.
Like Lopez, many other young Latinx artists are sharing their art online to be part of a larger community. Organizations like the Latino Arts Network, US Latinx Art Forum, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures host online events, virtual art shows, and Facebook affinity groups to build community during the pandemic. These digital outlets are giving artists like Lopez a long-awaited platform to celebrate their heritage and share their work. Lopez explains, “I like to think if I have my artform, a digital platform to share that art, and I now have the time and space to sit down and create, who can stop me?”
During a Crisis, Art Endures
Many people around the world imagine coping with COVID-19 throughout the rest of 2020 and into the foreseeable future. As we anticipate life in this ongoing quarantine, Lopez posits that art can guide us forward. She says, “We should be practicing social distancing, but who says we have to eliminate our artforms and creative ways of connecting?” In particular, Lopez advises that young people try to make art to connect with others, even if they have never envisioned themselves as artists. For example, Lopez references several of her friends who have begun selling art on Etsy or learning a musical instrument to express themselves during COVID-19. She says, “This might be the best opportunity to find new ways of sharing our art with the world. Sometimes joining a poetry online chat or socially distanced dance group could make a difference during this changing time.”
Young artists have experimented with TikTok tutorials, Zoom writing groups, and virtual gallery shows to cope with isolation. Their digital leadership is inspiring a more accessible future for the art industry. These young artists have catalyzed many museums to use digital tools to connect with guests during quarantine. Additionally, young artists are at the forefront of innovating digital art experiences for people with disabilities, working-class families, or others who may feel excluded from in-person galleries.
From VR tours to virtual art therapy sessions, artists of all ages are using new technologies to expand their impact. Fortunately, creatives like Lopez are blurring the boundaries between the art and digital worlds, one paint stroke or dance move at a time.