Where has the time gone? Some days seem to drag on forever, but when I glance at the calendar and see that nearly two months have passed since I ventured out into the world, I find myself in shock. In many ways it feels like I went to sleep just as spring started to make an appearance, and then woke up to summer knocking on my door. And while many of the impacts of COVID-19 have been heartbreaking and challenging, the arts community in Rowan County, and across the globe, is finding a way to flourish. True artists often thrive when they are given opportunities to think outside the box and be an original. Throughout Rowan County, artists of all types are finding new and innovative ways to share their gifts and spread joy and positive energy throughout our community.
One major and critical way that artists are flourishing during this pandemic, has been through the creation of PPE, or personal protective equipment. Owners at Eastern Costume Company, Vibes: The Premier Creative Arts Incubator, and the Grievous Gallery, have been working tirelessly to cut and sew masks for essential workers. These small creative businesses have single-handedly produced over 500 masks for area workers. Some are charging small fees for the supplies and others have relied on community donations, but, somehow, all have found a way to continue making, and to continue helping, when we need them the most.
Throughout the month of April, poets and musicians throughout the world have been performing and sharing their work via live social media performances. As we ventured into May, local drag performer Jamie “Monroe” Wilkerson, together with her partner-in-crime, local educator Tracey Lynn Patrick, took things to the next level. This dynamic duo is widely known for a popular Facebook Live “show” called “These Two Girls” where viewers get to laugh at their interactions and engage their vivid personalities.
During one of their shows, some of Jamie’s fans started chatting away at ways that they might be able to support live performers during this time of isolation, and from there, Drive-By Drag Shows emerged. These two girlfriends have been travelling around the county and providing opportunities for residents to enjoy a live performance while still respecting all social distancing guidelines. Driveways have now become the stage and whole neighborhoods are getting the opportunity to witness one of Jamie’s live drag performances, full costume and all, without ever having to leave their homes! Tracey, who serves as the videographer, totaled between 1100-1300 viewers on Facebook Live during the first show! For Jamie, drag is an escape, and this idea gave her an opportunity to provide that escape to others who are feeling shut inside. “If I can make them forget their blues for a few minutes then I’ve done my job as an entertainer,” Jamie shared. “I want to spread love and happiness in connecting through music and illusion.” To me, the coolest part about drive-by drag is that it exposes this artform to many people who may have never experienced it.
Seeds of Joy
Driving around the county, residents have noticed a wide variety of public art displays addressing COVID-19 and sending messages of love, hope and encouragement to our front-line workers. Families and local institutions, including St. John’s Lutheran Church, have taken to sidewalk chalk as a way to have fun outdoors and spread joyful messages. Stacey Shafer, the children’s minister at St. John’s, came up with the idea to ask the congregation to make signs that said Be of Good Courage with things that brought their members joy. The Henrik family heard the call and immediately leapt into action creating works that are sure to make anyone smile. “My daughter, Eliana Grace, who is three, took that to heart and we started drawing. We started with simple balloons and she couldn’t get enough,” said Laura Henrick. Laura’s younger son Elijah has also joined in on the fun. “It has been a light for us during this time and definitely helped us Be of Good Courage,” Laura explained.
Others, like singer/songwriter Ashley Farmer, have created large, more permanent displays right in the front yard with hand painted signs! Families throughout the area have used public art as inspiration to celebrate birthdays and graduations. Murals are popping up at Downtown Salisbury’s graffiti park and most recently, the store windows throughout the entire Downtown area have become a canvas for local artists.
All About Town
Whitney Wallace, Chair of the nonprofit organization Downtown Salisbury, Inc., viewed the COVID-19 crisis as “an opportunity for DSI to step up and show our value to our stakeholders.” The idea to paint the downtown windows was inspired by the co-owners of Lettered Lily – Taylor Durham and Megan Ferden who had come up with the idea to paint their own storefront. “They helped by doing their windows first, which are so fun and vibrant, and then they created a video to share for our volunteers,” Whitney shared. And from there she set out to find those volunteers. “I started by asking my close friends, who have really stepped up to help. I owe them. I hoped that once the store owners saw some painted stores, more stores would sign up and more volunteers would reach out. And it has worked!”
Area designer Sara Lee, of SISU Home Designs, and friend Kristin Dillard, collaborated with Go Burrito to create a fun surfboard design that leaves us longing for cool waves and sandy toes. “There’s a group of us and we were assigned windows downtown. I sketched what I wanted to do and Go Burrito approved it,” Sara explained. “I hope the paintings make people feel happy and more connected to each other. It was great to get the kids involved too!” The lists of local volunteers interested in painting the windows and businesses eager to get involved has continued to grow. Jacquelyn Jensen has painted two shops so far, including Spanky’s Homemade Ice Cream and Jayne Helms Realty Group. “I decided to get involved with the initiative to paint the town to help spread some joy during this time,” she told me. “Painting our downtown shops with bright colors and designs not only lifts our spirits, but it reminds residents to continue to support our local businesses.” So far, at least 17 different downtown businesses signed up to participate and Whitney expects more to come.
Keep It Moving
As we continue to embrace our “new normal” it is more important than ever to be kind, to explore creative ideas, and to find safe ways to spread a little joy to our friends and neighbors. With the arts community taking on this challenge in so many exciting ways, citizens across the county cannot help but feel hopeful for our future. If life has got you down, just grab a mask and safely, go have a look around. You might find a painting, maybe a message in chalk, and if you are really lucky, you might even see a drag show!
This year’s concert on Sept. 11, will “Remember, Recognize and Rejoice,” remembering the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, recognizing all the health care workers “who have so arduously fought the pandemic, and rejoicing over the opening of Bell Tower Green,” says Maestro David Hagy, who will conduct the performance, now in its 17th year.
Theater is finally returning to Rowan County, with new seasons announced by Lee St theatre and Piedmont Players.
After more than a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, some things have changed, but not the plan to entertain and educate Rowan theatergoers.