Art Valet: Local organization pioneers virtual programming

A participant in last year’s Fresh Arts Summit takes notes with his mobile device. This year’s summit will be held virtually in August. (Photo by Different World Images)

Almost immediately after the pandemic swept through the art world, forcing the closure and cancellations of festivals and events, the arts community flipped to virtual … for almost everything. First and foremost among the innovators was Houston’s own Fresh Arts.

Fresh Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that literally provides the tools artists and creatives need to succeed. Where an academic education can provide the skills to create, Fresh Arts takes it from there. Naturally, up until recently, almost all of the programming was done in person.

On March 17, Fresh Arts launched the first of what has become many virtual programs that has exploded their reach to an international audience. The ongoing interviews, workshops and conversations provide connectivity, skill-building, promotion and resiliency to local artists and arts organizations.

“Since going online in March, we have reached nearly 30,000 users from all parts of the world,” said Marci Dallas, executive director of Fresh Arts. “We are reaching twice as many artists and arts-led organizations as we were offline and ultimately our mission has always been to help advance the careers of local artists and creative entrepreneurs. We’re able to do that even more effectively now by meeting them where they are.”

Every Tuesday on Instagram TV, the newly launched Arts on Tap LIVE features artist interviews and behind-the-scenes scoops on local art happenings, complementing the eponymous weekly newsletter.

Reyes Ramirez is the programs outreach coordinator for Fresh Arts, and on the first and third Tuesday of each month on Facebook Live, participants can join the Resource Round-up with Reyes to hear from special guests and learn more about available resources and upcoming opportunities.

A conversation series on Thursdays brings Facebook Live viewers into a conversation with local artists to learn more about how those artists are adapting and staying resilient in this challenging time.

Corey Greene of SonKiss’d Dance speaks at last year’s Fresh Arts Summit. (Contributed photo)

This robust lineup of program offerings complements the annual Fresh Arts Summit taking place Aug. 7-8 and Artist INC scheduled for Oct. 7-Dec. 2. The Fresh Arts Summit, originally slated for June, will be entirely virtual and will convene subject matter experts and creatives with a career-building curriculum. Artists INC was also postponed, but Fresh Arts plans to convene weekly sessions in person and online for pre-selected participants.

This shift in programming and support has already made a difference for local artists.

“As a local artist in Houston, when the COVID-19 impact started to have effects on the arts community, we all started to immediately rack our brains for ideas to shift more virtually,” Edgar Medina said. “I had some primary goals in place to elevate my social and web presence in the new year and quickly decided to dial up that momentum with a virtual art show, including a live painting on Facebook and Instagram live. I also launched a program titled ‘Send Some Joy,’ allowing those to send a small original to someone of their choosing.”

Recognizing the need for guidance and resources within the local creative community as the entire economy was jarred by the pandemic, Fresh Arts has been on the frontline of adapting to the growing use of virtual tools.

“Fresh Arts has always been a great organization and ally to the local arts community of Houston,” Medina said. “It was great to see how they quickly pivoted their regular programming to bring resources to the community. I was asked to join in on one of the first social panels to share advice on creative ideas as we were all facing the challenge that came with closing the doors of our businesses. I always enjoy connecting with my fellow artists and keeping the community spirit strong. It’s great that we have organizations like Fresh Arts that give us a platform and voice.”

Find out more on the website, FreshArts.org, and catch up on past videos mentioned on its Facebook page, @fresharts.

Cohen is an artist and founder of the First Saturday Arts Market and the Market at Sawyer Yards. Find him at ArtValet.com for additional highlights and artist’s stories.

Art Valet: Local organization pioneers virtual programming