Angela Ridgway reluctantly cancelled the 2020 Washougal Studio Artists Tour after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March.
The Washougal artist, who organized the creation of the annual event in 2018, knew the state-issued restrictions that precluded gatherings wouldn’t allow the tour, scheduled for May 9-10, to go on as planned, but she really didn’t want 2020 to pass by without local artists having a chance to show off their work.
So, in late April, Ridgway reached out to the artists and presented them with a “last-minute” idea of creating videos for a virtual tour.
“They were on board,” Ridgway said. “I figured (the virtual tour) would help artists feel more connected to the community and help the community feel more connected to artists. The artists put in a lot of good effort during those two weeks to create something visual and personal.”
Those efforts culminated on Mother’s Day weekend, when videos featuring the work of 13 local artists were posted to the Washougal Studio Artists’ website and Facebook page.
“I think it went well. There was a lot of really good feedback,” Ridgway said. “Even if there was no big push for marketing before the event, I can promote it now. The videos are up on our website and Facebook page so people can go back and take a look at them. A few of the artists even had a few sales based on their videos, which was nice to see.”
Glass artist Shirley Bishop sold and shipped a large, multi-colored fused and blown glass vase featured in her tour video to a California resident.
“Based on the number of Facebook views of our videos and the adjoining reviews of last year’s tour that (Ridgway) did such a great job of posting, I’d say (the tour) was a success,” Bishop said. “I really enjoyed seeing the other artists’ studios also. I’ve only seen a few in the past as I’ve gotten to know them over the last three or four years — and all right here in my backyard. I think this was a really good idea, not only for the public to be more aware of our talent so far east of the ‘Couv,’ but also for each other to help solidify the relationships we’ve all created.”
“For a last-minute virtual tour, I think it went well,” said acrylic artist Anni Furniss, who created a video of her work for the tour. “(Ridgway) did 99 percent of the work. She’s a powerhouse of ideas, and I’m glad she came up with the idea to do it virtually. I do think it was important to keep a connection with our patrons, and it was wonderful to see the artists sharing each other’s videos and helping each other out. That is a wonderful part of living in a small artist community — we all know the importance of supporting each other instead of competing. I have never felt that was an issue here in any way.”
Participating artists included Tracy Simpson (encaustic, oil and jewelry); Toni McCarthy (beaded and metal jewelry); Tamara Dinius (mixed media); Suzanne Grover (pastels, watercolors and mixed media); Bishop; Sharon Ballard (acrylics); Kathy Marty (eco-friendly hand-woven rugs); John Furniss (woodworking); Jean Hague (watercolors, pastels, acrylics); Deborah Roberts (watercolors, colored pencils, oil pastels and acrylics); Charlene Hale (glass, ceramics, pen and ink); Anni Furniss (acrylics); and Ridgway (metal sculptures and wall art).
“They were sharing ideas and tips with people who hadn’t used (the technology before), going back and forth with certain tools and apps and different things,” Ridgway said. “I knew some were more comfortable doing videos than others, so I didn’t want to put too much pressure on anyone to do a live event. Some of the artists made slideshows that showed off their process. Others, like Tamara, Kathy and Shirley, created wonderful videos of their studios — all three of them live in beautiful surroundings. They tried to show their personalities and bring the visitors into what they were doing.”
“Everyone I have contact with — which isn’t many these days — told me they loved my video and were really impressed with the outcome,” Bishop added. “I’ve never done anything like that before, so with the help of Toni McCarthy, I found the right app, and through trial and tribulation figured it out. I was able to add music and titles, too. I was pretty excited. I’m glad we had a deadline to finish, or I could have made it over and over and over again and never thought it was ‘perfect.’ But I was happy with the outcome.”
The pandemic has had a “devastating” impact on the United States’ arts sector, according to Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, 62 percent of artists and “creatives” have become fully unemployed and suffered an average financial loss of $24,000, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Americans for the Arts.
Those losses have been felt on the local level, according to Bishop.
“I know some of the artists involved in the Washougal Studio Artists group rely fully on income from sales of their art,” Bishop said. “I’m sure (the pandemic has) had an impact on them, forcing them to realign their priorities and reorganize into using different types of media and sources for selling. I’m fortunate and unfortunate at the same time to not have to rely on it.”
“By not being able to share our art face-to-face, we’re not getting that personal connection,” Ridgway added. “A lot of my art can be very personal, and I know that when I talk to people about my artwork, those conversations can make the difference in them liking a piece or connecting with a piece.”
Anni Furniss said the pandemic has been “a mixed bag for artists.”
“If you look back in history, any large shifts in social structure have been fuel for an artist’s creative fire,” she said. “We usually create our greatest masterpieces during times of strife or big transformations. In that way, I’ve seen some beautiful pieces come out of this in all mediums.”
“On the other hand, a lot of us rely on gallery art shows and festivals to make money, and that was challenging for us in the beginning. We were lucky and qualified for a grant from the Washington state Artist Trust that helped pay our rent,” she said. “We also have a supportive community through social media and Patreon, and try to stay connected every day to our patrons and supporters. Artists by nature are creative, so adapting and finding new ways is in our blood. We’ll keep trying new things until it works.”