Art: distraction, coping mechanism during COVID-19

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On March 31, a couple of weeks after Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order closing public school classrooms, some Jordan-Matthews High School faculty and students conducted a Twitter concert.

Yes, a Twitter concert.

English teacher Sarah Harris played a selection from “Under the Sea” from the movie “The Little Mermaid” on the piano. Student Kayli McIntosh sang the song “She Used to Be Mine” — from the soundtrack to the Broadway play “Waitress” — with her own ukulele accompaniment. David Gonzalez Hernandez, another student, performed an excerpt from Agostino Gabucci’s “Aria and Scherzo” on the clarinet.

Rose Pate — the director of the JMArts Foundation, organizer of the #JMCoronaConcert and media coordinator at Jordan-Matthews — said the event “meant a great deal” to her.

“One of our big concerns as teachers during the transition to at-home learning has been for our students’ social and emotional states,” Pate said. “We wanted to create a space where our performers could share something that was meaningful to them, but still remain part of the JMArts community.”

Chatham County is home to its fair share of artists of all kinds, but performing and creative outlets for children and teenagers have become a common method of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting stresses.

At least, that’s what Tammy Matthews has found. As the artistic director of Pittsboro Youth Theater, she was responsible for getting five stage plays and musicals into performances. But when North Carolina’s stay-at-home order went into effect, and restrictions on mass gatherings were enacted, plans had to be changed.

Matthews said the different groups have been doing virtual group rehearsals, but they’re “not as productive.” So she began conducting one-on-one half-hour acting training sessions over a phone call or FaceTime.

“A big part of it is connecting one-on-one with somebody,” she said. “Some of them just adore it because it’s someone to connect with.”

Matthews said she feels it’s been a good outlet for her teenage students.

“The kids look depressed,” she said. “A parent will email me and say, ‘This is the highlight of their week.’ We’re trying to keep them upbeat and excited when their life is literally on hold.”

Another avenue for individuals across the county — not just kids — to engage in the arts was the 18th Annual ClydeFEST, put on by the Chatham Arts Council. But instead of a kids’ event centered around Bynum folk art legend Clyde Jones, Chatham residents were encouraged to pick up wooden “critter” cut-outs and art supplies at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro or Oasis Market in Siler City and decorate them. On April 25, participants were asked to post photos on their social media pages with the hashtag #ClydeFestToGo.

Speaking to the News + Record prior to the event, Chatham Arts Council Marketing/Public Relations Leader April Starling said the organization hoped the opportunity would “provide creative expression for kids and adults alike” in the time of a pandemic.

“We’re all living through a pretty stressful time right now and even though we couldn’t gather for the 18th annual ClydeFEST, we wanted to do something to connect people (virtually) and bring a little cheer,” Starling said. “To be honest, we are doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons. Staying home and practicing social distancing are the best things we can do right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy.”

JMArts sent out a tweet on Thursday, with the hashtag #ArtsMatter. It read: “In this difficult time, many people have discovered — and the rest of us are reminded — how essential arts are to our culture and our lives.”

“Expressing and appreciating the arts lets us connect as humans,” Pate said. “They give us a way to share experiences and perspectives, and that’s even more important in a time where since we are physically distant, it would be easy to become emotionally distant as well.  We’ve all had the experience with a song, or poem, or picture, where we thought, ‘Yes, that’s how I feel, too.’”

Matthews said being creative and finding connection during a time like this is “the most important thing anybody can do” right now.

“Watching Netflix all day is just not going to do — we have to make something exciting in life,” she said. “I think it’s important that we keep connecting with each other creatively as much as we can.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR..


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