By ROB DUGUAY Literally every place that relies on people gathering in their establishment to gain any amount of revenue has been affected by COVID-19. Bars, restaurants, music venues, theaters and art galleries took the brunt of the pandemic and are
Literally every place that relies on people gathering in their establishment to gain any amount of revenue has been affected by COVID-19. Bars, restaurants, music venues, theaters and art galleries took the brunt of the pandemic and are currently recovering from any losses they’ve suffered.
Located at 3259 Post Road in Warwick’s Apponaug neighborhood, the Warwick Center for the Arts is entering a new chapter in its existence while navigating the transition our entire society is making back to normalcy. After a year in which the center had to cancel a ton of events and scale down camps and workshops, the museum, gallery and performance space are all preparing for a busy summer.
I recently had a talk with director Danielle Salisbury and office manager and instructor Aileen Quinn to reflect on how COVID-19 changed everything and what they have going on during the coming months.
ROB DUGUAY: What was the experience like for the both of you and the Warwick Center for the Arts when COVID-19 shut everything down in March of last year?
AILEEN QUINN: We had an exhibit that we just had the opening night for which brought almost 100 people. The curator worked for over two years to get the exhibit up and running, so it was really sad because right after the opening we had to shut down. That particular exhibit was called “Inviting Courage,” and it was up for quite a while until it was safe for her to come and take it down. It was supposed to go to the State House, then it was supposed to go to the Westerly Public Library, but she had to keep it in storage for that time and we were shut down for a couple months until I came back and re-opened the office.
DANIELLE SALISBURY: Just to give a little background, Aileen was filling in for the former director who was on maternity leave at the time. Then I came on board in June after the former director decided to not come back after her maternity leave. Aileen was really keeping the ship afloat at the beginning.
RD: What has been the most affected by the pandemic in terms of operation over the past 15 months? Is it fundraising, not being able to have gallery exhibits, or something else?
AQ: We mostly use our facility for events, so there were graduation parties lined up, we had birthday parties scheduled, and we had to cancel everything. We had to issue refunds for a lot of the classes we had slated for the spring for the summer. We had quite a lineup of art teachers that were coming in and a lot of people paying for classes who got refunded. A lot of people haven’t come back because they don’t feel comfortable yet, but I would say the events and the classes have been the most affected. Also, our summer camp was scaled down last year, but we were still able to pull it off.
DS: We did a camp on a reduced scale, but usually the camp is at least 30 percent of our annual revenue. That was definitely a big hit for us to take.
RD: Speaking of the camps, next week marks the start of the Warwick Center for the Arts summer camp, with the first workshop being called “Creation Station.” Is the camp already sold out and are you putting social distancing guidelines in place or are you running it as normal?
DS: Last year, when we ran camp, we had to do a lot. I think we have a better idea of how to do it now while abiding by the guidelines since we didn’t shut it down last year and we ran a modified camp. We put in extra cleaning protocols, we took every kid’s temperature coming in for COVID-19 screening, and I imagine that we’ll do that again. It really wasn’t that hard. The first week of camp is close to being sold out, but we are running it for seven weeks while using both of our spaces in the gallery and the classroom.
AQ: We will hopefully be able to run two camps simultaneously.
DS: Yeah, so we can keep kids spread out.
RD: That’s great. On July 1 at 6 p.m., you’re also having the opening reception for the exhibit titled “Altered Papers, Prints & Books.” Is it pretty much a ton of old archives being made into visual art or is the exhibit something else?
DS: That exhibit is specifically geared for artists that like to make things out of paper, take old books and basically create something else out of the book. It can be a sculpture or something that becomes its own art piece. We have a good variety of artworks that’ll be part of the exhibit.
DS: Yeah, it’s going to be our first in-person exhibit opening for the public since the pandemic.
RD: Other than the summer camp and the upcoming exhibit, what does the Warwick Center for the Arts have planned for the coming months?
DS: We have a Native American artist exhibit coming up in August. We are partnering with the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter to present an exhibit called “Resilience” that is a juried exhibit specifically for Native American artists. Following that, at the end of the summer, we’re partnering with the Rhode Island Art Educators Association to provide an opportunity for art teachers in our area to share their own artwork. We chose to have it at the end of the summer because summer is typically when they are able to make their own pieces of art when they’re not teaching.