Northwest Florida Ballet, Sinfonia Gulf Coast and the Mattie Kelly Arts Center galleries have found alternative ways to pursue their art during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dance class isn’t what it used to be.


As the coronavirus pandemic drives people indoors, Northwest Florida Ballet has made all of its evening and Academie classes virtual. Up to 60 students have participated in a dance class using Zoom video conferencing.


Artistic director Todd Allen said it will never replace an in-studio class.


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“The challenging thing is their space they are practicing in – it varies,” Allen said. “It might be in the kitchen holding onto the countertop doing ballet class. It might be the bedroom. I’ve seen several kids that are actually outside. I have a few kids that live by the water, so they’re holding onto the railing on a deck.”


Not to mention the safety of the floors – no longer the sprung studio floors, but carpet, wood or tile – and instances of getting kicked off the class because of Internet signal.


The Ballet is offering a 25% discount, but the number of students has declined.


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Arts already exist “on the margins,” Allen said, and the financial ramifications of coronavirus didn’t help. Northwest Florida Ballet applied for money from the Small Business Administration for help.


“For an organization like ours, it’s been really scary,” Allen said. “All of a sudden, your income is completely cut off. Our priority is on our kids. We miss all of our students. It was really great to see them when I had my first (Zoom) class, to know they’re OK. I’m going through this as an adult, but I can’t imagine going through this as a teenager or a child in elementary school.”


The Sinfonia Gulf Coast Youth Orchestra has a similar approach, hosting weekly rehearsals via Zoom. Sinfonia Gulf Coast music and artistic director Demetrius Fuller said it’s been a great way for music director, Aaron King Vaughn, to stay connected to the students individually and as a group.


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“A really fun aspect of the entire process has been seeing the joy on their faces during these sessions,” Fuller said. “While virtual experiences like this will never replace the in-person rehearsal process, we are able to remain active with this program so that when we are all able to meet in person, everyone is ready to go to rehearse and ultimately perform the Spring concert.”


The Mattie Kelly Arts Center gallery has taken things online, too – to Facebook specifically.


Gallery director J. Wren Supak said the gallery is amid its first virtual arts exhibition, the Arnie Hart Juried Student Exhibition, and online vote for the People’s Choice Awards.


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The Exhibition began with a workshop before spring break, in which art students learned how to matte, frame and present their work professionally. University of West Florida professor Carrie Fonder juried the show, determining awards and which pieces to display.


When Northwest Florida State College transitioned to online learning, Supak and gallery assistant, Sarah Hawkins, acted fast, photographing more than 60 chosen pieces.


“We banged it out and maintained our six feet social distancing,” Supak said. “Some of the work is really, really big. It was fun. We felt like ninjas. I thought to myself, ‘The great thing about visual art is it lends itself to an online exhibition platform. I’ve always felt digital exhibitions were the future, and suddenly the future is now.”


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The juried exhibition not only features the 58 selected students, but also rejected applicants’ work in the Salon de Refuses – an art historical tradition. The works are divided by category into Facebook photo galleries, one for three-dimensional art, or sculpture, and two-dimensional art, which are drawings, paintings and digital and film photography.


People can vote in the Mattie Kelly Arts Center Galleries Facebook page’s story everyday at noon until May 4. Students will win cash prizes.


The artists are receptive to going online, organizers said. .


“This might be the way to go,” Supak said. “Next year, yes, we should have a physical show in the gallery, but it’s such a compliment to see your work up there and be able to share it with your friends and family who live far away.”


Not only did the students’ creativity and commitment impress Supak, but also that of the arts faculty.


“This is so meaningful for them,” Supak said. “They thought maybe I would cancel the show; they’re so happy to celebrate their students this way. People are quickly turning to art – art they can make, art they can look at. It’s taken on new meaning.”