On March 16, Access Gallery — a Denver nonprofit connecting people with disabilities to arts employment and education — temporarily shut down its physical location. But it only took a week to transition many of its offerings online.
Starting on March 23, the gallery began one-on-one mentoring with artists, checking in with them about how they were handling the changes, and ensuring that they have everything they needed to remain productive through the closure. "We scrambled to get technology to our artists who needed it and spent hours with some families to help them figure out how to connect," says Amy Siegel, the gallery's director of marketing, sales and design.
Soon, Access began offering weekly virtual classes in graphic design, drawing and comic-book making. as well as open studio time. The gallery is exploring even more online educational opportunities.
"Now that we are in more of a rhythm with our artists, we are doing better," says Access executive director Damon McLeese. "The first two weeks were rough. We have a population of people who are very structured in their routines. They were coming to the studio on certain days for certain times, or they were working on a project with a mentor at the studio at specific times. They all have their places for the materials they use and artwork they were working on. Then we had to change all of that. Our first realization was that we are much more than an arts organization; we are a safety net. We have delivered food, masks, gift cards and even a couple of computers so people could be connected."
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In addition to classes, the gallery is advocating that online content from other arts and culture organizations is accessible to as many people as possible, offering best practices around ASL interpretation, captioning services and making sure online images have descriptions for people using screen readers.
The organization also held its first virtual online opening, Ten Year Pin, on April 3; it's sold nine pieces from that show.
Most recently, Access has launched Art in a Box — a collection of works from various gallery artists that include canvas and paper paintings, sculptures and more. The boxes, which the gallery is shipping out, will help ensure that artists receive some income through the crisis. A large box of art runs $100, and a small box $50.
"Most of our artists already live below the poverty line, so it is critical to keep them working at home so that they can be earning money," says Siegel.