COVID-19 Presents Opportunities and Challenges for Regional Artists

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Although many regional artists have had their lives blown off track by COVID-19, many have found new ways to keep their work going. In fact, the paradigm shift has actually created entirely new opportunities for some.

“It’s a little difficult… because you don’t want to spread fear, it’s a little touchy at the moment,” said Emi Olin, a local illustrator working towards becoming a professional medical illustrator. Olin, who is also a children’s book illustrator who uses the moniker “Abieto,” has found opportunities to make COVID centric works that are less scary.

“One of the books I’ve recently curated focused on good habits, like don’t touch your face, wash your hands constantly, if you’re dirty just clean up, little nursery rhymes like that,” Olin said. “That is kind of the focus, to acknowledge COVID but also to not instill fear and constant paranoia.”

Olin also illustrates scenes of “dark experimentalism,” which she said the pandemic has impacted.

“I find it hard to create further dark or very meaningful creations,” she said. “I kinda wanna create the opposite and make people focus on the lighter side of life.”

One of the creative ways Athens artists have come together to sell their work is the weekly “Athens Westside Artkinglot,” an in-person event, organized by local artist Cricket Jones in the Tavolino’s parking lot (9 South Shafer Street).

“I just love making friends and connections,” said Olin, who has been taking part in the weekly events, finding them to be a source of support from fellow regional artists.

Courtney Martin, one of the two artists behind Dainty Prairie Accessories, (which also sells work at the Westside Artkinglot,) said it’s important for artists to connect face-to-face, even if those faces are partially covered by masks.

“Clearly people are really missing being able to go and view art in person and interact with the artists themselves and a lot of the artists have been dying to do the same.” Martin said.

Dainty Prairie Accessories, a business born out of the pandemic, has gathered a strong Instagram following over the last few months. Likely due in part to the brand’s unique aesthetic, which Martin described as “stuff that you would have worn when you were a kid … [and that channels] the inner-child in you.”

Dainty Prairie
The artists of Dainty Prairie Accessories. (@daintyprairie)

Martin began Dainty Prairie after the pandemic forced her to come home from her study abroad program. Shortly afterwards, she lost both of her jobs due to COVID.

“I basically just had all the time in the world,” Martin said. “I thought ‘why don’t I just go full throttle with my jewelry and see where it takes me?’”

Rachel Broughton became part of Dainty Prairie in June after graduating from Ohio University.

“I’ve just been so focused on school that I’ve never had time to explore really putting the work into art,” said Broughton. “Losing my jobs during the pandemic presented more of an opportunity than a challenge to me for creating art and working on it.”

Martin said this kind of opportunity can be hard to create for yourself under normal circumstances.

“In terms of what happened with my situation, I feel like I’ve known since high school, basically, that I wanted to make jewelry full time,” Martin said. “It’s kind of intimidating to take that leap because you have to work and focus on school. I lost my jobs because of the pandemic and everything, so like, in a way, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise. ‘Cuz I had no reason not to focus on what I love doing best.”

Both Dainty Prairie Accessories and Abieto Art can be found selling their work weekly at the Athens Westside Atkinglot in the Tavolino’s parking lot on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Losing my jobs during the pandemic presented more of an opportunity than a challenge to me for creating art and working on it.” – Rachel Broughton of Dainty Prairie Accessories

For many members of the Athens community, lack of in-person live music in Athens this year has also left a noticeable void for both music fans and musicians. Local rock band Birds With Vertigo had only recently formed a little over a year ago when the pandemic started to begin.

“We had a solid two show run,” said Grant Schroader, guitarist and vocalist in the band.

“We were all over the state when the [COVID-19 lockdown] began in the spring,” said Preston Frick, bassist. “ …so that was a bit challenging.”

Still, pandemic and all, the band knew they wanted to find some way to maintain momentum.

“We all knew we’d come back to it. We had boundaries that were defined by the pandemic of course. But underlying that we knew we had songs that we wanted to record,” said guitarist and vocalist Max Semenczuk.

In spite of the pandemic, Birds With Vertigo just released their first single “Monday” on September 28, which was appropriately, a Monday.

You can listen to “Monday” from Birds With Vertigo on Spotify and other streaming services.