Airdrie art community comes together during pandemic

Story by Stacie Gaetz


Photos by Courtesy of Sharon Shuttleworth

When you think of professions that have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, artist may not be the first that comes to mind.

However, the local art community has suffered just as much as any other sector with cancelled shows, sales, classes and a loss of creativity during this uncertain time.

“I honestly first thought isolation would be great for just going into the studio and painting all day,” said Sharon Shuttleworth acrylics artist of 10 years.

“I didn’t anticipate the emotional and mental ways it would affect me.”

Sara Zampa, a writer and graphic artist who was laid off in April, agreed.

“It’s hard to be productive when so much about your daily routine has been disrupted,” she said.

“I’ve always believed that artistic endeavours are a skill, not a talent, that require discipline to maintain. You might have the creative inspiration and time, but if you’re too busy worrying about whether or not you’re going to have a job in a month, or if the entire world is going to end, it’s hard to keep that discipline going.”

Cindy Zampa, artist and founder of Studio 52 – a group of local artists whose goal is to create a unique piece of art every week for a full year – said she was initially in shock when the pandemic hit and was not creating at all during that time.

“Gradually, I began to do some artwork, but it was created solely for healing and coping – the results are certainly not for public display,” she said.


A Challenge

After the pandemic in mid-March, Shuttleworth made the joke “Perhaps we should call it 52 Days of Social Distancing: An Introspective.”

“What started out as a small joke has become a small project to help the days pass by more calmly,” she said.

“Just because you are spending more time at home and away from people doesn’t mean you can’t be creative and share with others.”

Cindy said the 52 Day Challenge was a way for the members to lift their spirits after they realized that they were going to have to cancel the ‘2020 Vision’ project they had planned. The plan for the project, which marked Studio 52’s third year, involved going to various locations and creating something based on what inspired them at that site, then encouraging members of the public to go to those sites to explore the area and see how the same location can generate different points of view.

“I was thrilled with the momentum that Studio 52 had built, and so excited about the ‘2020 Vision’ project getting underway,” said Cindy.

“It was frustrating and disappointing, to say the least, to realize everything had to come to a grinding halt.”


Creative Connection

Michele Donohue has been a visual artist, who works in epoxy resin, acrylics and alcohol inks, for close to 25 years.

Donohue said when a number of the shows she had lined up were cancelled, she was really disappointed.

“Some art really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated so it’s difficult,” she said.

However, she said artists have always been a group of people that are connected to others and the pandemic hasn’t stopped that. She and a number of other artists she knows continue to come together (in safe ways) for charity auctions and events.

“I feel creating (in any choice of medium or art type a person enjoys) is good therapy, motivation and connection for any who enjoy it,” she said.

Cindy said the members of Studio 52 have been teaching and connecting via Zoom and are “having a blast getting back into the creative, fun zone again.”

“We are a resilient and resourceful bunch of creatives, so we have found other ways to connect and fan the flames of our creative spirits,” she added.

“Now, more than ever, we need to lean on each other as artists, to share what we are going through, so we know we are not alone in the struggles we face each day.”

Sara said the virtual connections has given her motivation to create, even if it’s only to practice techniques.

“There’s no pressure to produce something amazing, because these sessions are just for fun and experimentation,” she added.

“I think that’s the key to getting through this; not to worry about making something ‘good,’ just concentrating on making something.”

Cindy said the pandemic has brought one important aspect to light for many people who never thought they would be interested in art.

“Doing artistic things is an act of healing oneself, but so is enjoying the art of others,” she said.

“Artists really need the support of their audience, not merely in a financial sense (though that is important), but also to know that they are being seen and appreciated for what they, and their art, bring to this world.”

For more information on Studio 52, visit the Facebook Page.