We were out for a proper physically distanced walk over the weekend when a sign on the Artstore of Waterloo caught my eye. The sign has been there for a while – for as long as I can remember, actually – but the quote from Picasso jumped out: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Connecting with art during a pandemic might not be your first thought. But if you’ve watched a movie, listened to music or enjoyed looking at photos during these past few weeks, art has helped you through.

Art has also become an outlet to strengthen our community and show support for frontline workers. 

Here are four ways to connect, share and create while you’re staying home to save lives.

“An artist’s job is to tell a story,” said Amit Mehta over a phone call. Mehta is the founder of Good Co. Productions, known for their pop-up concerts at secret locations across the region. As with most businesses, Good Co. has had to make changes due to COVID-19-related venue and facility shutdowns. “Artists can’t get into studios or venues and so they can’t tell those stories right now.”

The pivot to online events isn’t just for work meetings and family catch-ups over Zoom. While many venues have begun offering their events online, Good Co.’s approach is based on their business goal of helping musicians connect with their audiences. “We’re focused on musicians first – that’s the gap we fill,” said Mehta. “We want to give them another channel to get their music out.” 

Good Go.’s pivot is not based on oversaturating the market, but on amplifying musicians. “It’s less about event experiences and more about supporting artists through this.”

Mehta is quick to point out that most musicians in Kitchener-Waterloo aren’t able to financially do it full time. “Most of them work two jobs and the shutdowns have really affected them.” Good Co. launched The Band Shop on their site to support artists through merchandise sales. There’s no cost to bands to list the merchandise. If the band doesn’t have swag already, Good Co. has partnered with Civilian Screen Printing to help the band get it made. 

Their Local Sounds project is a way to get musicians connected with each other virtually. “We invited musicians to record any sound around them – we just specify the tempo and key. Once we collect them, we’re going to make a song out of the submissions.”

Like most businesses, musicians and bands are looking for financial support. Good Co. works with more than 500 musicians globally and has seen an uptake in requests for support, from employment insurance to information on grants. This Friday, April 24, Good Co. is hosting its first artist roundtable for musicians to connect and share resources and strategies for getting their music out to audiences. “We have artists from New York to Toronto to KW, it’s a diverse crowd,” said Mehta. “We can lend an ear and see what resources we can offer.”

Screenshot of Good Co. Production's open mic night on Instagram

The weekly Good Co.
open mic night
on Instagram

Good Co. also has a weekly open mic on Tuesdays. It’s a way for musicians to share their music with audiences old and new. You can catch the open mic every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on their Instagram channel .

Staying home doesn’t mean an end to public art. Residents around the region have been making signs, decorating windows and chalking up their appreciation of the healthcare workers and others who are putting their lives on the line. 

The City of Waterloo has launched its Through our Waterloo Windows project to help showcase these works and bring the community together. “With two young kids, I was looking for any images of positivity to show that community still matters,” said Sonya Poweska, Culture Program Specialist with the City of Waterloo. 

Poweska curates the city’s LUMEN festival and saw an opportunity to use public art to connect the community during COVID. “I pitched the project where we’d collect images of positivity, images of thanking healthcare workers,” said Poweska. Anyone in the community is welcome to participate by submitting images of their artwork. These can be anything from signs and chalk drawings to photography, collages or even poetry and music. 

During the upcoming months, the city will be sharing some of the images on their social channel. When social distancing restrictions are lifted, the city will create a public art exhibit combining many of the submissions. “…at the end of this, we want to re-engage with the images of positivity that have been put out by our community,” added Poweska. “It’s a way to reflect fondly on this experience.”

Sharing public art with a twist is the idea behind local graphic designer Amy Esplen’s Not The Only Lonely project. Esplen is looking for public art displays that are created using materials that would normally end up in your blue bin. 

The idea came to Esplen and fellow artist Nicole Beno when they were looking for ways to collaborate with other artists in town. “There’s so much local talent we’re in awe of,” said Esplen. “Then the pandemic hit and it all fell into place. People already have things on hand, and if you have the free time, it’s a nice outlet to make some art.”

Not The Only Lonely is open to anyone in the community. The idea is to create a piece using things in your recycling bin or around your space. You then display around your house or apartment to share with the public. “There’s no pressure – take the brief and do what you want. Spark some joy in you and hopefully other people see it and find it awesome.”

The only rule is that you can only leave the piece up for four days. “Nicole and I cut out some Amazon boxes and put them in Victoria Park and they blew away. We don’t want art to become garbage,” Esplen said. 

Submissions shared with Esplen are posted on the project’s Instagram page with a message about what inspired the piece. Brie Pointer , another amazing designer, is using her apartment building as a canvas. “I work with Brie and she helped by spell-checking the entire site. Now she and her daughter are chalking their apartment – it looks awesome,” added Esplen.

Brie Porter's apartment, now also public art

Brie Porter and her daughter have
turned their apartment building
into public art.
(Photo courtesy Amy Esplen)

The City of Kitchener has also been looking for a way to showcase the signs of thanks that residents have been creating. “Our team here is seeing different things take place in the community – sidewalk chalk art, messages of thanks and for inspiration,” said Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “We looked at this and asked how we do something that can engage the whole community, not just neighbourhoods.”

The answer is the city’s Kitchener Says Thanks campaign. Residents are invited to print a downloadable poster or create their signs sharing thanks with the hashtag #KitchenerSaysThanks. “Throughout this, we’ve seen so many stories of hope and inspiration. Things like the InkSmith3D story to people checking in on elderly neighbours and doing their grocery shopping” added Vrbanovic. 

The Mayor also cited all the signs of thanks that residents are showing for workers we normally take for granted. “The grocery workers, custodians, truck drivers. They’re an integral part of our quality of life and now we’re making so much effort to recognize them.”

Kitchener Says Thanks is also an opportunity for the city to thank residents with a weekly concert series. “Music is something that binds us together as humans. It often serves to provide hope and inspiration in challenging times,” added Vrbanovic.

Similar to Good Co.’s drive to support musicians, Vrbanovic sees the concert series as an opportunity to support artists. “These concerts are a great way to support our residents, but equally important, they support local artists who can’t perform right now.”

The Kitchener Says Thanks concert series takes place twice a week. On Tuesdays at 11 a.m., there is a children’s show featuring artists like Erick Traplin and Artshine-Arts4all. Then on Thursdays at 7 p.m., the city hosts an all-ages show with artists including Rufus John and 12 Mile Island.

Vrbanovic is optimistic about what our community will be like after COVID physical distancing ends. “My hope is, at the end of all of this, we become a more reflective, more caring, more compassionate community that addresses the social injustices that still exist.”