The Colorado Photographic Arts Center went dark in mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic closed up much of Denver's cultural scene, but it didn't take long for the Golden Triangle-based nonprofit to light up again, shifting much of its illuminating programming online. First CPAC moved its archive of hundreds of photos onto its website, and while the organization was forced to postpone its May and June exhibitions, it just opened a new virtual show, Distanced Perspectives: Living in Colorado During COVID-19, which comprises a selection of 32 works from 91 submitted.
The exhibit includes works by Ashley Allen, Cali M. Banks, Kelley Dallas, Westword's own Susan Froyd and many more. Some of the photographs are melancholy, others mysterious, and a few are downright funny. There are photos of a carless street; an empty playground blocked off with caution tape; a man and woman reaching for each other, divided by a window, longing for connection; a woman photographing herself in a mirror with a blue Post-it note covering her face that reads "Trapped"; a glowing full moon, representing the nightly 8 p.m. howl; a man with a crazed look spooning spaghetti into his mouth and clutching a glass of wine; people playing a board game; and the shuttered Gothic Theatre with the phrase "We Love You All. See You Soon" on the marquee.
Westword caught up with Distanced Perspectives curator and CPAC Executive Director Samantha Johnston to find out more about the exhibition and how COVID-19 shutdowns have affected her organization.
Westword: How is CPAC holding up these days? What will reopening look like for you?
Samantha Johnston: We feel extremely fortunate that our staff and board are healthy, that our team has been able to work from home, and that we have been able to retain staff and maintain basic operations during this crisis. This has been a difficult time for so many people, groups and organizations. CPAC is currently looking at a phased reopening plan. We had to move our May/June show to 2021, so the gallery does not have an exhibition up right now. We will be hanging our members' show in late June, with the plan to open that exhibition on June 30. We are still assessing the situation for a timed entry or an online opening reception. However, the gallery will be open for visitors July 11 to visit at a safe distance with a mask on. Our staff is working together to open our space safely for everyone.
What does the future look like for CPAC? How has the pandemic hit you?
CPAC has been closed since March 17, 2020. The pandemic hit us hard, like so many others. We had to cancel most of our classes and workshops and our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Hal Gould Award Dinner and Auction, resulting in a significant loss of revenue. Fortunately, we were able to secure a PPP loan, and we are extremely grateful to several members of our community who stepped up with donations. The next couple of years will be hard, but we are optimistic that CPAC will weather this storm.
One bright spot in all this is that because we are a small organization, we were able to pivot quickly and move some of our programming online. On April 1, we made CPAC’s permanent collection available to the public for the first time on our website. The collection features 800-plus fine-art prints by 180 artists working from the 1800s to today. It really is a phenomenal educational resource. We’ve been working on this project for four years, and although it’s still missing some details, we felt our community could benefit from some positive, creative photographic inspiration during these difficult times.
Talk about how Distanced Perspectives came about.
As a team, we have been discussing ways to connect with your community both locally and nationally. Photography is a tool that allows us all to document our lives, and we wanted to provide a place for the people of Colorado to share their experiences with COVID-19. So we created this online exhibit that was juried but free to enter for everyone.
Where do these photographs come from? What ties them together?
These photographs come from people working at all skill levels, most of whom live along the Front Range. As I went through all the images, it was difficult to distill the selection down. Each image communicated a different story or experience. For me, what ties these 32 images together is the shared experience we have all had with COVID-19. This has been a very difficult time for everyone. To me, these images are almost comforting, because although many of them are about being apart, lonely, missing our friends and events, they show that we’re not alone; we’re all going through this.
What did you learn about this historical moment from these photos?
These photos show a shared experience different than this world has seen before. COVID-19 did not affect one area; it has affected the whole world. I have seen similar images online and through news channels throughout the pandemic.
How has social distancing changed the work photographers are doing? What noteworthy innovations have you seen during this period?
Social distancing has changed work for photographers who shoot commercially and usually work as a team. But many photographers often work on their own. I do think the lens in which everyone sees has changed. During this time, I have seen more photographers sharing work, creating opportunities for BFA and MFA students who did not have an exhibition to culminate their work. It’s been encouraging to see how organizations and photographers are innovating to share their work.
What was surprising for you as you were going through submissions?
As I went through the submissions, I was surprised by how honest and willing to share everyone was. There are many moments captured, from contemplative to lonely. Through this difficult time, it seems some have found ways to communicate to friends and family more than they did previously as a way to connect.
Distanced Perspective runs through Saturday, June 27, on the CPAC website. The gallery, at 1070 Bannock Street, is scheduled to reopen July 1.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.