During those uncertain, difficult early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and organizations scrambled to find innovative ways to stay connected to the wider community.
In the case of the Riverside Arts Center, whose very existence thrives on personal connection in the form of gallery exhibitions and art classes for all ages, it meant bringing art to people shut up in their homes.
They did it with a combination of special art kits that could be delivered or picked up in a contact-less way, staging gallery exhibitions that could be experienced without ever setting foot in the gallery itself and by calling on the community to document the pandemic’s impact by creating a Community Quarantine Quilt.
In one way, it was a simple way to engage with people looking for an artistic outlet, and the thought of a quilt – with its homey, comforting symbolism – was a suitable concept.
It cost almost nothing, monetarily, to produce – with RAC delivering squares of muslin and scraps of fabric to contributors who transformed them into personal expressions of hope, thanks and of the importance of the natural world, family and community.
While the quilt was displayed at the Riverside Township Hall, its future was up in the air. At first, RAC officials believed it might be useful as part of a fundraising effort, but a silent auction of the quilt failed to draw a single bid.
At the same time, the Field Museum was in the process of putting together a Pandemic Collection to document this historic international moment – in contrast to what hadn’t been done a century earlier in the wake of the last great international pandemic.
A chance conversation between Liz Chilsen, the RAC executive director, and an artist friend about the Field’s new effort was kismet. Chilsen reached out and within a few months the quilt was on its way to be a permanent part of the Field Museum Pandemic Collection.
Art can have such an impact, but we don’t often give it its due. For a town as small as Riverside to have an arts center that offers high-quality public, free exhibitions and maintains an art school is kind of remarkable.
Brookfield has a newer but no less ambitious gallery and studio – Compassion Factory – as well, and you can pay it a visit during the 2022 Brookfield Art Walk in the Eight Corners business district on June 4.
The following weekend, you can head back into downtown Riverside to give RAC a look while also taking in the “spectacle” and enjoying some performances at the downtown train station during a modified Riverside Arts Weekend on June 11-12.
Our small towns have a lot of art to offer, and we can’t think of another time in recent memory when we’ve needed it more.