Normally at this time of year, Houstonians are receiving flyers and emails from arts organizations about the upcoming season's plans, filled with regional premieres, returns of classic favorites and star-studded repertoires. With COVID-19, however, that has put a halt to the springtime fanfare. But never count the arts out. Where some see a pause, others see a chance to connect with audiences in different ways. Such is the task of Society for the Performing Arts with its latest initiative: Creative Connection.
In a prepared statement, the organization said Creative Connection will feature the creative spirit of individuals across Houston as we practice social distancing. Local performing artists and creative spirits of all genres and backgrounds are encouraged to submit videos, three minutes or less, of performance content. SPA will then curate and feature the mini-performances on the SPA website and its social media channels.
SPA, like many of its sister organizations, was thrown for a loop when COVID-19 forced the continued shutdown. It has canceled or postponed shows through June 28, but in the spirit of determination, leaders were determined to find a way to connect artists with audiences. Thus, Creative Connection was born.
"I think the arts are one of the significant focuses of our human life on Earth, and it's marvelous to share that joy with others. I remember when we were closing our office [due to COVID-19], I was trying to figure out how to keep people motivated, and that's where Creative Connection came from," said Meg Booth, CEO of SPA. "Many artists create the most extraordinary work under nasty and pressure-filled circumstances. The creative mind is constantly coming up with innovation and figuring out how to navigate change and do something new."
Videos, Instagram postings and an assortment of other media have poured in, which are updated once each day by SPA staff on its website. The organization is also asking for people or groups to continue submitting material for future posts via on online submission form.
"We're blending the artists we have presented on our season and everyday Houstonians in the digital realm. If people have a web site, we want to share it. We want to tell as much about them and amplify, celebrate, give as much light as possible. Truly, you can take a cell phone video. We're not looking exclusively for professional artists, we want to celebrate that we all have creativity inside of us. We have had many professional artist, and we have moms at home who are being creative with their kids, and there's everything in between. We're celebrating the diversity of Houston and the creative spirit in all of us," Booth said.
The videos are finding a second life that extends far beyond the art-for-art's-sake purpose they were intended for. Teachers have found them to be a source for instruction.
"Our education director has gotten quite a few emails from teachers who are working to create online curriculum and want to use some of the videos for online instruction. It's a fun surprise that Creative Connection is being used in some of the classroom teaching," Booth said.
After all, art surrounds us in the most unexpected ways if we take a moment to notice — which is perhaps part of the unspoken purpose of SPA's new online endeavor.
"I was out on a walk in the morning, and I passed something in the middle of the street. Someone drew the solar system in chalk, and it was a work of art. They got all the planets looking like you would expect them to look. Saturn had its rings. Jupiter had its moons," she said. "Humans are so resilient. It was probably some parents who were giving a lesson at home on the solar system. I wish we could have recorded it and put it online."
SPA plans to continue adding daily videos for the immediate future, but Booth adds that the current situation serves as a reminder of what we find most important during times of trial.
"We've heard from our audiences how much they miss being together in a theater and seeing a live performance. That's what drives SPA and gives us hope that we'll be in the theater and share those experiences again," she said. "You know that moment when the curtain goes up, or something amazing happens, and then there's a standing ovation? It something that happens only in that moment and only when shared with others. We've heard from our audiences that they miss coming downtown and being together, and we miss them too."
Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston's sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston's rich culture.