How does a community arts organization react to an ongoing pandemic that requires the restriction of in-person gatherings? It gets creative.
“We’re still dreaming big,” says Alan Goffinski, director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative. “One thing that I think we’ve always prided ourselves on as an organization is our ability to shift gears, respond to the creative impulses of our community, and be that resource for artists and culture shapers to plug in and make something happen.”
Programming committee member Federico Cuatlacuatl says, “We’re in the time where community programs have to constantly reinvent ourselves and how we engage, which is challenging and overwhelming, but, at the same time, exciting because we get to pave that path. We get to throw out these ideas and exciting new possibilities.”
One of those exciting new possibilities is Rad Press, a collection of newsstands in front of the Bridge gallery space at 209 Monticello Rd., which offers a way to connect the community and elevates the voices of Charlottesville artists. They’re not traditional newspaper boxes in appearance or content. On the outside, they are vibrant works of art thanks to The Bridge PAI programming committee members Cuatlacuatl, Karina Monroy, and Daisa Granger Pascall, and Feminist Union of Charlottes- ville Creatives members Heather Owens and Miranda Elliott Rader. On the inside, they contain a variety of print content, including zines, pamphlets, stickers, and buttons, exploring themes of “revolution, resistance, decolonization, and witchcraft,” according to Cuatlacuatl.
This effort “was a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Cuatlacuatl says. “It was also a response to the tension our communities are feeling under a pandemic. It was at the same time a response to keep the Bridge going in terms of programming, being active, and responding in regard to all of these phenomena. We’re always keeping in mind, ‘how do we keep artists and communities engaged?’ It was a perfect way to keep everyone involved and tuned in.”
In this time of prolonged isolation, The Bridge PAI recognized the importance of tangible communication. “You’re literally holding the opinions, ideas, and values of your community in your hand,” says Goffinski. “Having that experience of engaging multiple senses in that process of intaking someone else’s ideas is a really valuable and beautiful thing.”
The Bridge PAI reached out to local artists already making print materials related to subjects like anti-racism and anti- fascism, and asked them to participate. Goffinski says the goal is to amplify those artists’ ideas, imagery, and literature.
Lydia Moyer, an artist and UVA associate professor, is a big believer in independent and artist publications, as well as DIY distribution, and says she contributed posters and prints to support and encourage radical thought in Charlottesville.
The Bridge PAI hopes to make Rad Press a permanent fixture. “Radical literature is timeless,” Goffinski says. “There are so many conversations that need to be had about so many things. Every week, something new is in the foreground…we want Rad Press to…be able to shift and morph to include new things as they pop up.”
While Rad Press keeps the conversation going outside, the Bridge’s gallery space has become active again through the STUDI0.00 initiative, which offers free, short-term studio use to artists displaced by the pandemic virus or reckoning with the pandemic of systemic racism, according to Goffinski.
“This is a very basic effort to say to our creative community that we exist for you,” he says. “In a town where space is increasingly more difficult to come by and more expensive, we just never lose sight of the fact that our space is a valuable resource and we don’t want it to sit dormant just because we can’t do what we normally do in it.”
Programming committee member Katie Schetlick says the benefits reach beyond the individual artists themselves. “That space has those huge windows, so it also provides the opportunity to be reminded that people are still making art, which is a hopeful visual.” The initiative has also uncovered new talent. “Some of the artists who have requested space, I’d never seen their work before,” says Schetlick. “It’s been nice to actually learn about these hidden gems that are right here in Charlottesville.”
Genevieve Story took advantage of the empty gallery, using it for leather pyrography, fulfilling orders and preparing offerings for the holiday season. Hoping to have a larger space of her own but unable to acquire it due to economic impacts of the coronavirus, Story had been doing work at her kitchen table. “The offer from the Bridge could not have come at a better time,” she says.
The space continues to be available on a first come, first served basis, and Schetlick encourages others to make a request. “Don’t feel shy about it, even if you just want to go inside and wiggle around and make some funny noises,” she says. “The space is there.”