Quarantine creativity: The arts and culture community works to keep Clevelanders connected

The coronavirus may be forcing most people to stay home right now. Concerts are canceled. Theaters have gone dark. And galleries and museums are closed. But creativity can’t be stifled by stay-at-home orders. Organizations and individuals have spent the past weeks launching programs, exercises, and challenges that bring the artist out in all of us.



The Cleveland arts community is working hard to keep the arts alive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuyahoga Arts & Culture executive director Jill Paulsen says many grantees are channeling their energies toward some unique arts activities that can be enjoyed at a distance—yet bring people together.


“While we acknowledge it’s been a very difficult time, we have been inspired by the creative online programming our grantees have developed to help us feel connected to each other and to arts and culture,” says Paulsen. “In tough times, art has the power to challenge the status quo, comfort, and lift spirits. We need arts and culture to thrive, now more than ever.”


Here is a look at several projects that are deemed “COVID-19 safe.”


Virtual museum tours and orchestra concerts

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) may be closed right now, but museum officials have brought the many exhibits to patrons with its virtual tours. Download the ArtLens app to create a custom tour of the museum from your home (or anywhere else you may be spending time right now).


Home Is Where the Art Is video series shares museum curators’ insights into current exhibitions, and visitors can access more than 61,000 images of the CMA’s permanent collection. Or, search the museum’s archives for digital recordings of past events and programs.


Coronavirus forced the Cleveland Orchestra to cancel its concerts at least through the end of May, but patrons can get their fix through WCLV 104.9, where Cleveland Orchestra concerts are broadcast every Saturday and Sunday, and the performances are also available on-demand.


Lexi Deet, pictured here by her boyfriend, developed the Instagram Photo Distancing ChallengeProgressive Arts Alliance: Photos from afar

When all Ohio schools closed in March due to COVID-19, Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA) Development Director Susie Bauer wanted to keep the students the organization works with engaged through art.


Most of PAA’s work involves artist residencies in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and other area school districts, in which artist-teachers integrate art and self-expression into all areas of academic learning. PAA operates with a $49,127 CAC general operating support grant.


But with the shutdown, the question became how to integrate art in education while not interacting face to face. “We wanted to find some ways artists could connect with their students,” says Bauer. “So, we asked each artist to come up with an idea for a resource we could share.”


Many of the artists developed unique programs to initiate while social distancing. Professional photographer Lexi Deet’s Instagram Photo Distancing Challenge took off.


Each day, participants are given a word prompt—such as “shadow” or “Get Close”—and must shoot a photo that fits that prompt and then post it on Instagram with the tag #PhotoDistancingChallenge.


“The photography project teaches composition, technique, or something more,” says Deet. “You can do a photo scavenger hunt where students can run around the house or take a walk around the back yard [to find] things that represent whatever the word is.”


Deet says the challenge is ideally suited for tweens, but young children and adults can participate too—there are no restrictions. “I’m looking to encourage more participation,” she says. “You can spend five minutes or five hours on it.”


Bauer says the photo challenge is a perfect way to integrate art during the day, while also practicing social distancing. “There are so many resources out there,” she says. “This is bite-sized so people can do what they want to do, when they can do it.”


Deet plans to continue the Photo Distancing Challenge into the summer.


Cleveland Print Room:

Like Progressive Arts Alliance, Cleveland Print Room is also using words and photos to inspire people. The organization uses its $25,000 CAC project support grant to provide affordable access to a community darkroom and workspace, offer educational and outreach programs, and hold gallery shows.


Cleveland Print Room founder and executive director Shari Wilkins came up with the idea for a Digital Diary program after the stay-at-home order came down in March from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Each day there’s a new a word prompt that aims to spark creativity with a camera (today’s word is “growth’). Wilkins then challenges participants to post their photo on Instagram and tag it #CPRdigitaldiary.


“We decided to do it for one month in April,” she says. “It’s been so successful, we’re carrying it through the year—maybe longer. Our Instagram [visits] went up phenomenally—100%, if not more. We’ve had a lot of interest.”


Ballet dancer, teacher, and director, Lexy Lattimore and her sister created a dance video and challenged others to do the same.A challenge to get moving and dance

As a ballet dancer, social worker, and director, Lexy Lattimore calls herself a “community builder.” In the past, CAC awarded her with a Support for Artist grants for her Room in the House residency at Karamu House and participation in Learning Lab.


But with COVID-19 keeping Clevelanders in their homes, Lattimore knew she had to motivate people to be active. “I had an idea to do something to get people moving at home,” she recalls. So, she and her sister created a dance video and challenged others to do the same.

Lattimore says the The Community Innovation Network at Case Western Reserve University offered its support as a sponsor.


The sisters made two videos, one that included their mother, Cherrice (a Glenville and Wade Park native). They tagged the dance videos #COVIDdancevid, posted them on her Instagram and other social media pages, and started their own dance challenge.


“I think what’s beautiful about our dance video is, even if you don’t create one yourself people have fun watching them,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot of amazing videos of people dancing in their houses and yards and having fun.”


In fact, Lattimore’s Dance Video Challenge has gotten more than 2,000 views each on Facebook and has been viewed from Cleveland to Boston, to Rome.


“It’s about spreading joy,” Lattimore says.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.