Art in the time of COVID

OASIS Fine Arts & Crafts, pictured here in December 2019, has tried to stay festive even amid the pandemic. (Photo by Randi Hagi)

By Bridget Manley, publisher

While any celebration has been difficult during this global pandemic, Harrisonburg’s artist co-op wasn’t about to let its 20th anniversary go unacknowledged. So its staff sought to pull it off by tapping into the same creativity and emotion used to make beautiful art.  

Run by an all-volunteer staff of local artists, OASIS Fine Art & Crafts features a broad array of work, including photography, jewelry, stained glass and much more. The co-op usually has about three dozen members a year, and the artists all spend time maintaining the shop — everything from setting up the displays to washing the windows.

The artists initially had big plans for their 20th anniversary.  The co-op had planned to join with all the major art organizations in Harrisonburg for an interactive festival celebrating local art through demonstrations and children’s activities. OASIS even received a grant to make the festival possible. 

And then COVID hit. 

After scrapping all of those plans, they pivoted to a more muted anniversary show in October. The show featured a piece of work form every former member, as well as a piece from the founding members. 

While the official show was in October, the co-op is extending the celebration for the next several months with additional programs and shows, along with giveaways on the 20th of each month and on each First Friday.

“It’s way scaled down, but it feels appropriate,” said Barbara Camph, one of the artists with the co-op.

Sarah Lock, a metalsmith and one of the founding members of OASIS, said the idea to form a co-op was hatched from the concept that multiple art groups in the community could band together to form a “for sale” gallery where artists could show their work.

Both Camph and Lock said they are proud that the community has maintained a resource for local art and artists to sell their work, and Lock, who is still a member, said she is most proud of the gallery’s participation in community activities. 

“Some of my best memories have been the events downtown,” Lock said. “The First Fridays and First Night, the Christmas parade. We try to be open downtown for all those events. The Chocolate Walk — we try to be part of the community, not just a retail gallery but an asset to the community.” 

OASIS has also participated in events over the years with the Boys and Girls Club of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County and Second Home through their “Art On Wheels” program, teaching art to students in the community. The OASIS artists are currently working on art kits for children to take home through a grant from the city of Harrisonburg. 

The artists have also supported each other to continue working and making art, especially during the pandemic, Camph said. She said reaching people through art has helped buoy their spirits amid chaos. 

“I think our folks at OASIS have been really good about encouraging each other. We have continued to have our monthly shows, which, that pushes artisan members to create new things,” Camph said. “Because if you’ve got a show coming up, you’ve got to dig deep and respond to that. Our first couple of shows during the pandemic were virtual only, but we opened again in June, and we are putting the shows, up and we do put pictures on Facebook.” 

Lock said although the co-op endured challenges in the past, the pandemic has been the hardest waters they have navigated thus far. Lock said one saving grace was the opening of their virtual store during the pandemic — an idea that had been tossed around before but became an essential development because of the pandemic. 

And while the artists at OASIS are grateful for the ability to sell their work locally, making art can be for everyone Camph said.

“You have to find the medium that works for you,” Camph said. “And that doesn’t mean that it’s the medium for the next seventy years, but one that you start with that you can get really good at and express yourself.”

Camph said young artists usually try a variety of mediums to see what really fits their creative side, and she suggests starting there. Finding the space for what makes an artist feel creative and expressive is the key to finding happiness in art, she said. 

“Glass talks to me, so that’s my medium,” Camph said. 

The co-op is always looking for new members, and applicants can send samples of their work to be juried by the current members. 

Lock said bringing art to the community is one of OASIS’s lasting legacies, and she said she feels grateful to be part of such a unique group of people. 

“It’s art, but it’s mainly the people that do it,” Lock said. “Being around creative people, it’s been a joy through the years. I’ve been blessed to be able to be part of that community.” 

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