We Hope This Art Finds You Well
Nomi Dave’s Music Ethnography class ran across three years, with three different cohorts of students. The class had been working on a storytelling project with local artists in C’ville, and in the project’s second year, in Spring 2020, the pandemic hit, and everything needed to shift. “We could no longer meet with our community partners in person, and I thought the project would collapse,” said Dave. Instead, the intrepid students in that year’s cohort (2019-20) had the idea to work on digital projects, including helping run a virtual open mic night, creating a music video, and one student even worked with Dave on a virtual benefit concert for the local domestic violence shelter, SHE. Then, the new cohort (2020-21) picked up the project and worked more actively on shaping it to the pandemic. Finally, one of the students, Noelle Buice, had the idea of creating a Covid arts time capsule, and thus We Hope This Art Finds You Well was born!
“I loved this idea,” Dave said, “and I contacted Nathan Moore at WTJU and Alan Goffinski at The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and they just took the idea and ran with it.” The first iterations of the idea involved a sort of cloak and dagger affair, with students heading out under cover of darkness to bury a physical time capsule in the ground. However, Moore saved them from their shovels by suggesting that the project could be an exhibit that could be curated by students and housed in a micro museum.
“I was kind of inspired by this tiny little museum in New York City called the Mmuseumm,” Moore said. “It is an entire museum inside a freight elevator at sidewalk level, which I thought was a really cool idea.”
While no one had an unused freight available, Moore and Goffinski had another equally cool option in mind – a 50-year-old camper parked in the back of WTJU that has been used as a literal storytelling vehicle. The group applied for and received funding from the Faculty Research Grant for the Arts to refurbish the trailer, turn it into a mini-museum, and continue interviewing artists.
In the end, they chose ten artists/arts organizations to highlight in the physical space, creating an evolving repository of audio recordings, videos, photos, and texts. Each artist was featured on their own dedicated panel in the mini-museum, outfitted with museum touches, including track lighting and its own “comfort couch,” set up to look as if any person lounging there was stuck in a sort of endless quarantine loop. The couch featured items pulled from interviews with artists about what music or hobbies they were relying on to get through the quarantine.
The artists represent a wide array of mediums, styles, and subject matter, yet are all united by their outsized passion and creativity to make art in even the hardest of times and to better our entire community in the process. They included photographer/journalist/photo documentarian Ézé Amos, whose “Porchtraits” project early in the pandemic was a fascinating window into the vibrancy of the local community even as unprecedented times were pulling us apart from one another. Emily Morrison and her organization, The Front Porch, did their part to bring the music and listening communities together by hosting weekly live-streamed concerts that served as an artistic lifeline for all and ensured connections cut off by the circumstances. Leslie Scott-Jones is a singer, actor, director, producer, activist, and then some. Known by many in the community for her work with the Charlottesville Players Guild and her reimaginations of classic Shakespeare plays through a Black lens, Scott-Jones certainly made the most of her lockdown time – finishing a play she had been working on for two years and going back to the roots of her theatre training by launching an audio podcast called Grounds.
Since not everyone would be comfortable in person, the exhibit was also given an online home (artfindsyouwell.org), adding a sense of longevity not always found in such projects. “Alan Goffinski (Director of The Bridge PAI) mentioned that with so many projects like this at UVA, the online home gets orphaned when a domain name expires, and all the work goes away. This way, WTJU can maintain the site and keep it alive into the future,” Moore said. The project will also continue, he said, through short interstitial “Sonic IDs” produced and broadcast by WTJU that recount key memories and experiences shared by artists living and creating through the pandemic.
“It was enormously satisfying for me to see that these students were compelled to move this project forward,” Dave said. “My community engagement courses are very much premised on the idea that students get out of the classroom and connect with community members. So it was great to see these students, including last year’s cohort, come up against and overcome challenges, and in such a creative way.”
The community partnerships with WTJU and The Bridge, she said, were invaluable to the process. “Here, you have two community organizations that are so utterly immersed in their work and so incredibly creative and community-oriented, doing the kinds of things they have been doing for and with the UVA and Charlottesville community for a long time.” Adding to the value of the experience, she said, were the opportunities to connect directly with the artists involved. “It was wonderful to connect the students to the larger artistic community here and make them realize that there is so much in Charlottesville beyond the University and see that there are so many people doing good and important and collaborative work.”
- Ézé Amos
- Alex Christie
- Warren Craghead
- Sri Kodakalla
- Ramona Martinez
- Heather Mease
- Nathan Moore
- Emily Morrison
- Ivan Orr
- LaRissa Rogers
- Leslie Scott-Jones
- Remy St. Clair