Art Association adapts

Historic organization marches on through uncertain times

click to enlarge Felicia Olin's “Down the Rabbit Hole” from Paint the Street 2019. - PHOTO FACEBOOK.COM/SPRINGFIELDART
Photo facebook.com/springfieldart
Felicia Olin's “Down the Rabbit Hole” from Paint the Street 2019.
Springfield Art Association members recently met to seek suggestions about their latest work. One showed she had been experimenting with a variety of mediums since the pandemic began: collage, acrylic landscapes, art journaling. Another asked for help in sketching out a scene from a photo of the Grand Canyon she had taken while on vacation. Back when vacation was a thing. Like most meetings these days, it happened online, via the video conference platform Zoom.

Betsy Dollar heads the SAA. Her own artwork has taken a backseat as she leads the organization – its roots stretching back more than a century – through these unknowable times. She recently picked up a printing press from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, which is shuttering. It was a bittersweet donation. "It may not be until sometime next year that I actually get to teach anyone how to use it," said Dollar.

The association is the oldest existing one of its kind in the area, and is connected to Edwards Place, a historical home with ties to the Lincolns that offers tours and opens into the main gallery of the SAA campus. Of course the tours are postponed. With a focus on offering classes and enrichment for Springfield residents, the organization has met a variety of challenges over the decades. It had hit a stride in recent years. In 2016 it joined forces with the Prairie Art Alliance, exemplified by a collective gallery at The Hoogland. In 2017 it partnered with the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association for an ongoing residential program for visiting artists.

A major renovation was recently completed, with a new building consisting of a ceramics lab, as well as labs for jewelry and glass work. Watching it sit empty now is far from ideal, and Dollar suspects people will be wary of the glass-blowing process for some time. "Even though we wipe down the pipes really carefully between users, just the idea of sharing a glass-blowing pipe – people are going to be skittish about it." In-person classes are not happening at all for now.

Still, the organization is finding multiple paths forward. In addition to online meetings, fundraisers – essential to operations – have not been entirely put on hold. June's "Paint the Street" event usually takes place downtown, with people paying for art supplies and to secure a square of street they can paint publicly. This time around, those who opt to buy the supplies will instead return home to paint their own patch of concrete. "Paint the Driveway" will take place on June 20.

Summer art camp for school-aged kids is another large part of the SAA's offerings, but those plans are on hold. Meanwhile, parents will be able to pick up art project supplies and instructions. The project boxes will be "for different age groups, based on the themes that we already had in place for some of the camps," said Dollar. Those will be available starting in June. Further updates and more information is at springfieldart.org.

SAA was a beneficiary of the Paycheck Protection Program and has been able to keep its staff on board. Dollar said they have been focused on digital offerings. Member artists have work for sale, which can be accessed from the organization's website, and past shows are viewable there as well. Dollar said the organization has been lucky that many have renewed their memberships even though some offerings have had to be put on hiatus. "I'm very, very pleased with how generous everyone has been," said Dollar.

You can contact Rachel Otwell at rotwell@illinoistimes.com.

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