Evan Weissman and his civic-minded group Warm Cookies of the Revolution had been booked to encourage people in hard-to-reach populations to participate in the U.S. Census; they planned to bring artists together and throw a Census Carnival. But as COVID-19 hit Colorado, Weissman realized that they would need to pare down the production. A few days later, as shutdowns began statewide, the project was canceled altogether.
That was one of several productions Weissman had been working on, along with a sitcom collaboration with his former colleagues at Buntport Theater. Now out of work, like so many people, he decided to figure out what was next for him and the artists who also work with Warm Cookies.
During a conversation with rapper, artist and Westword MasterMind Molina Speaks, Weissman recalls, "We were thinking...'Hey, is there a way to actually get people paid?'"
Inspired by the notion that when people are sick or grieving, they receive gift baskets, they decided to create a virtual gift basket with a sampling of some of the best work from Denver's creative community. The project would include three-minute excerpts from each artist, released online on the Warm Cookies of the Revolution website, and be at once comforting and entertaining.
They would use prompts related to the COVID-19 pandemic — "What does it mean to be socially intimate?" and "What does it mean to wash your hands?" — that would create thematic ties between the works.
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Weissman reached out to several possible funders, and the Roddenberry Foundation, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and Denver Arts & Venues all responded quickly, paying artists to create pieces for the Virtual Gift Basket.
After finding funding, Weissman and company reached out to fellow creatives, including Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre, Suzi Q. Smith, street artist Jolt and printmaker Ravi Zupa, to see if they would be interested in participating. Most were. Others who signed on for the project include Mary Grace Legg, the Reminders, Buntport Theater, Naureen Singh, Juan Fuentes, Armando Geneyro, Sheree "Lovemestiza" Brown, Haley Stewart, Izaiah D. Buseth, Anthony Grimes and Michael Ill Se7en Acuña.
"There are some super-cool, badass artists and culture workers and thinkers doing stuff on this," says Weissman.
And you get to reap the results: The Virtual Gift Basket will be released for free at 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, on the Warm Cookies of the Revolution website.