I have reacted to finding myself living through a global pandemic by trying to use social media to build an online community devoted to encourage the use creativity and art processes to channel the emotions we are all grappling with. Creatives at all levels are invited to share their art and creative work for the benefit of us all on a Facebook Group called the Cabin Fever Creative Community.
On March 14th, 2020 my husband, my dog and I returned to Wisconsin from our van camping trip to avoid the Wisconsin winter snows. We had spent a lovely time camping our way through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico (including a wonderful week camping at Ghost Ranch). As we headed home the news was 24/7 corona virus. We realized we were going to have to socially isolate immediately, given our recent tour of public restroom even though we has spent most of our time in state and national parks and wildlife areas.
I retired from an academic career in 2018 to a full time focus on my own studio work (finally) and private teaching/coaching/consulting. As the danger of Covid-19 had become clear I found myself canceling art exhibitions and all other in-person events that were to happen in April and May as a way to protect my art community. I spent the first few weeks at home finishing up artworks for The Flowers Art Burning….Oceans Arising, my collaborative art and climate justice project with artist Mary Kay Neumann and turning it into a virtual exhibition. I also canceled or postponed many of my upcoming art workshops and classes and completed promised commissions.
We arrived back at our home in Madison, Wisconsin on a Saturday and we went immediately into self isolation. I am a natural recluse and an introvert. The idea of being forced to stay home and work in my studio is not actually a hardship for me. In fact I was feeling a little guilty about a secret delight I was feeling about getting to focus exclusively on my painting. Despite my secret joy of getting to focus on my art making, I am also a social creature and my art family, friends and art community mean a lot to me. While I physically isolated with my spouse and dog I remained connected as much as possible through email, social media, Zoom, and the archaic instrument…the telephone. I am also a Facebook, Instagram, Linked In and Twitter user, but Facebook is currently my main social media hub.
Through my multiple communication channels I found that some of the most creative people people I know were feeling anxious and vulnerable in the face of social shut down and our unknown future. My academic artist friends were scrambling to effectively turn studio art courses into online offerings for their students, some of them while figuring out how to keep their children engaged and educated now that they were home too. Other creatives were looking at all of their opportunities to show their art and art related offerings disappear. For some creators that was years of planning up in smoke. Anyone with a brick and mortar arts oriented organization or business had a whole other set of disasters to deal with.
Social and cultural isolation and economic worries are depressing. This was especially true of people who are older, live alone, and/or have pre-existing conditions that make them especially concerned about exposure to the Covid-19 virus. There was also the extreme distress of artists like me (who can be thought of as individually run small businesses) who were losing our means of making a living ….
None-the-less, I could not help but feel very, very lucky for my secure home, access to food (and drink) and my ability to isolate in place with a partner, and an art studio full of supplies. This is my privileged experience. It is happening in the midst of other stories of increasing Covid-19 infections and death rates across the globe, in the USA, and in my home state of Wisconsin. Given the realities of the huge number of people who are now food insecure, unemployed or working as front-line essential workers in healthcare and essential businesses and are exposed to the virus daily, I have nothing to complain about. I have friends and family who are not he front lines in healthcare but I am not in one of the families of people who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus or other reasons. We all hear about this every day and we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from being one of the stories.
I realized that in these times my good mental health would depend on maintaining connections with my friends, family and creative community. Connections and shared awareness was going to be very important as I faced the unknown of the global pandemic, and if this was true for me it was true for others. Maybe this was a way to help….
Inspired by my communication with fellow artists, students, and clients, on Sunday March 15th I started a Facebook group called the Cabin Fever Creative Community. I created the group for three reasons:
1) to give creatives a way to use making and sharing their art to fight the emotional consequence of the times,
2) to dilute the 24/7 Facebook feeds of politics and coronavirus with art and creative ideas, and
3) to create an online creative community for people at all levels that will encourage our creativity in all media as an act of resistance to both the coronavirus and the polarizing politics that surround us.
The world is not better if we do not do our art.
The group is for people who would like to build a creative community from a distance. I called for all creatives who found themselves alone in their homes or studios during this period of cocooning for the sake of the community, and who were trying to use this time as an opportunity to do and share their art All media are welcome (including poetry). Professional and amateur artists are welcome, and everyone in between.
I ask participants to introduce themselves with a image (or two) and 1-2 sentences about their art and any links to websites. The posts do not have to be apolitical (we have a Pandemic Commentary topic thread) but they should be mainly about their art or sharing resources and opportunities. People are free to do longer introductions, including where they are from, the kinds of art materials they work with and a web link if they have one. Also, if they are working on larger projects or series that address issues or themes they are Welcome to share them too. Artist who have online stores or sales venues may share them but we ask for any selling to take place privately. For those newer to art making or trying to squeeze it in between the rest of their lives they are invited to share what they would like us to know. Professional artists and amateur artists in all media are welcome.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The art is amazing. The creativity is life affirming. Everyday I am surprised by what I see. There is nothing typical. Artists with international professional careers and people who have done their first drawing, painting or creative crafts are sharing their work. People are showing us how they do their work, sharing series in progress, art journal entries or share daily or regular creative practices that get them through the day and night. Others share posts that they know the group will appreciate or share invitations to participate, to information about resources of interest to the group. Participants are regularly sharing their creative efforts or lurking and enjoying the posts that make their Facebook feeds more palatable in these turbulent times.
The group grew to 1000, and then two thousand members very quickly. Now there are over 5000 members, (aided in growth by a former student who brought the group to the attention of the advertising company. That resulted in it included it in advertisements about Facebook groups bring people together during the pandemic’s social isolation.)
It is currently a public group that welcomes all who share the intentions of the group to join. If you are new to Facebook and would like to find and join the group to join us, use Facebook’s search tool to find a group the name ‘Cabin Fever Creative Community.’ Then join in the looking and sharing.
As the country opens up some people will no longer be in quarantine and isolation, but the group will continue. We may be grappling with Corvid-219 for some time to come, but I expect the group to continue during the coming months, and hopefully long after we have effective vaccines. The Cabin Fever Creative Community is everything I hoped it would be.
Group Rules from the Administration
2 No Hate Speech,
3 No Judgy Attitudes or Bullying Allowed
4 Gentle self promotion allowed
5 Give more than you take
6 Respect privacy and use proper attributions
7 Avoid posts that are more political than creative
8 No Personal Attacks
9 No Deliberate Attempts to Provoke or Blow up List