The pandemic has rattled the arts community. Florida-based visionary painter Stella Strzyzowska can attest to the changes.
“It was my first year being a full time artist. I spent the first two months in Amsterdam, and then had to jump back over [to the US] overnight when it closed the border,” said Strzyzowska.
Now, over a year later, organizations and artists like Strzyzowska are still contending with shifting social restrictions related to the ongoing pandemic. Established psychedelic art sanctuaries like Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) and Burning Man have remained completely virtual, while other spaces are starting to craft a hybrid of digital and physical offerings, leaving artists to rethink how the public interacts with art and what it means to create and support the arts in an increasingly digital world.
For Strzyzowska, the emergence of online platforms like The Arts Oasis, a calendar and guide created to help artists navigate the virtual landscape during the pandemic, have kept her informed and connected to the creative community.
It was only a few years ago that Strzyzowska was a school teacher doing art in her free time. When a friend suddenly passed away, she was hit with the revelation that she could die any day. “That was a big turning point for me. I had to ask myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I wanted to be a full time artist and I wasn’t, so I left my job as a school teacher, started serving tables, and working on my art full time,” said Strzyzowska.
Following advice received during a medicine journey, Strzyzowska then applied to an art intensive at CoSM. “I was inspired by Alex Grey’s work to go into these spaces and try to bring back whatever I could. In the process I started doing yoga and meditation, and naturally awoke to a purpose through my pain, a mission of art.”
Strzyzowska prayed for a vision that would change her life. A year later, the vision came to her in the form of Donald Trump drinking ayahuasca. Following in the footsteps of Grey, she honored her vision by putting it to canvas. It eventually became the work that gained her recognition and allowed her to move to full time artistry.
But when the pandemic forced everyone inside, Strzyzowska had to recalibrate. She immediately jumped on the Vision Train, a 24/7 Zoom-based art studio created by Amanda Sage that became a “non-stop global art jam” connecting artists around the world as they worked on their art.
“I found it really supportive,” said Strzyzowska of the Vision Train, while reflecting on the community she’s found through Sage and the Greys. “CoSM has been fundamental to the establishment of my career at this point.”
The virtual arts community helped Strzyzowska settle into quarantine and support her through the following months. “I was experimenting and kind of finding my groove, and then I took a big turn after George Floyd’s murder. All the protests and election energy really affected me.”
Strzyzowska broke from the colorful psychedelic style typical of her work to channel that energy into a more contemporary protest piece. The painting garnered the most reaction of any of her works, sparking dialogue and grabbing the attention of celebrities like Diplo, who shared her work on social media. “It felt like I needed to do that energetic work, to help contribute to culture and heal history. It is complicated to tackle politics through art, but I was just following what my inner self felt like it needed to do,” Strzyzowska said.
This is when a fellow Florida-based artist reached out to Strzyzowska to invite her to the Arts Oasis. “I was asked if I wanted to be a featured artist,” said Strzyzowska, whose protest piece is prominently featured on her Arts Oasis page. “My professors and mentors at Florida State – Carrie Ann Baade and Mark Messersmith – are on there as well.”
Strzyzowska’s paintings are just one example of the talent found on the Arts Oasis. Filmmaker Liz Canner founded the platform to help artists who, like Strzyzowska, were experiencing the waves of change pulsing through the arts community due to the pandemic.
“This project was really made to help the arts,” said Canner, calling the Arts Oasis a labor of love. “It’s completely non-profit and mostly volunteer. We even have lists of resources for artists and arts organizations – grants, legal services, support for artists that are really in need. I think this has been a really, really tough time for the arts community and individual artists, especially. This project lets you know you’re not alone.”
Americans for the Arts found that 95% of artists lost income during the pandemic. As the community moved online to close the gap, Canner’s inbox became overwhelmed with email invites to digital events including virtual museum tours and Zoom plays. This shift in art form intrigued Canner and was part of her inspiration for starting the Arts Oasis platform.
“It raises really interesting questions about art. If a play is performed on zoom, is that still a play? There’s really a lot of ingenuity happening right now.” Such shifts, noted Canner, make art more accessible. You can virtually tour the Musée D’orsay in Paris or see your favorite stage actors go live on social media, for example.
“We can reach more diverse audiences, both economically and geographically. That’s the way art should be – something that anyone can learn from, experience, and be inspired by,” said Canner. “A lot of events are going to be hybrid as we move forward, even once the pandemic is over, a lot of the arts organizations are saying, ‘Hey, we can reach people all over the world this way.’”
The Nashville Film Festival is one such hybrid event listed on the Arts Oasis platform. Tickets can be purchased for either in-person screenings or virtual screenings at a slight discount. As the arts community continues to change and adapt to pandemic, the Arts Oasis continues to evolve too. They are now listing not only hybrid events, but in-person events as well, along with classes, meditations, and other listings that they think will be helpful to artists and art lovers.
Canner calls it “Craigslist meets TV Guide.” All listings are free and artists and organizations can submit their work, classes, or events to the Arts Oasis using the submission page.
“We are really dedicated to having a hand curated site and a place where organizations can submit their events. But we’re not using algorithms. We’re trying to get away from those sorts of things. There’s no polarization, no search function that reinforces bias, no economy of likes. We want to encourage diversity, curiosity, and creativity and try to help people get inspired.”
When browsing through the Arts Oasis, the diversity and creativity is apparent. From visionary painters like Strzyzowska to comedians and game designers, there is space for every artist and art lover. “We love it when artists and organizations submit. We just want people to use the site, and hopefully get something out of it,” said Canner.
Image: Stella Strzyzowska