Artists experiencing hardships as a result of events being canceled can find some assistance through a new community grant program.

The Gahanna Area Arts Council has launched a program for local artists and creative types in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"We've always been planning to establish a community-grant program," said Kevin Dengel, arts council president. "Now we're choosing to launch it early because we know the artists need immediate support."

Rebekah McBride-Smith, the arts council's communications chairwoman, said the pandemic has forced state and local leaders to cancel or postpone many events, festivals and concerts this year for safety reasons.

She said this creates a substantial economic loss for local artists and crafters whose income is directly linked to these gatherings.

Juli Hess, owner of Gahanna's Art Garden Studios, 172 Granville St., said she's in the business of child development through the fine-art mediums.

"As far as the visual arts are concerned, we thought our move to virtual classes would be unscathed by the stay-at-home order," she said. "Artmaking is a relaxing meditative process and we thought we could help the anxiety that children are facing by creating art but it comes with its own anxieties."

Hess said some students were uncomfortable with their art process being broadcast to the other students on a screen.

They felt they were on stage for all to hear their questions and comments, she said.

Other students are just simply "online fatigued" with distance learning, she said.

"My business, because it involves children, will be one of the last released to be open and many of my parents are waiting for the school system to announce their intentions before returning to our studio."

Hess said she understands the concerns.

"Creating is something we artists are conditioned to do and the deadlines are looming, but we are hoping to come out of this better. We like to say, 'Our next painting is our best painting,' " she said.

Angie Never, a 1994 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate, is a dancer, instructor and owner of Sacred Shimmy Studio, 4875 Hendron Road in Groveport.

She said the pandemic has changed everything about the way she does business, creates art and connects with students and patrons.

Never said her yoga, music and dance studio closed its doors March 15, just in advance of Gov. Mike DeWine's stay-at-home order, because she felt like she didn't have enough information to keep people safe.

The business has remained closed.

"The dance and yoga teachers, myself included, have made the bumpy transition into online teaching, which has meant updating equipment and learning lots of new stuff, as well as paying for streaming services and upgraded internet, stuff that was never an issue when we could meet in person," Never said.

"Unfortunately, our music teacher has not been able to make the transition to online classes because of the difficulty with good sound on streaming services like Zoom."

Never said all performances scheduled for this year have been canceled, so that's an income hit and a creative hit.

"We had to cancel a regional event with an out-of-town teacher we had scheduled for June, and we're starting to worry about the big music event we have planned for September," she said.

"Our desire to continue to perform has really called on us to figure out new ways to connect with audiences, so we've started dipping our toes into the water of digital concerts."

McBride-Smith said the arts council was hoping to expand programming to include house concerts and more instructional classes, in addition to continued visual-art exhibitions at its headquarters at Momentum House, 116 Mill St.

With indefinite social-distancing measures, she said, all gatherings at the house are on hold, and plans for the summer Second Saturday Arts in the Alley festival series are uncertain.

"We're seeing the economic toll this has taken on our creative community," said Christian Peck, the arts council's vice president. "In a survey we sent out to this year's Arts in the Alley participants, some local artists expect to lose up to $10,000 from canceled events this summer alone.

"Adding to the hardship, many local artists are self-employed and therefore restricted from applying for certain small-business programs or unemployment benefits."

Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the arts in the United States, has already estimated a $4.8 billion economic effect on the arts and culture sector from the pandemic.

"We believe it is our duty to support and advocate for our artists," McBride-Smith said. "We feel that now, more than ever."

Festivals aren't essential, but the arts and artists are, according to Dengel.

"If anything, this pandemic has shown us all just how much we need the arts for our physical and mental health," he said. "I can't imagine trying to live through this stay-at-home order without music, movies, poetry, books, paintings or games."

Currently, three $250 grants will be awarded, and Gahanna's arts council hopes to be able to expand the program in the near future.

"We'd like to extend the community grants program through the summer and introduce higher award levels in the fall, but we'll need community support and additional donations to make that happen," Peck said.

"Then, once this pandemic is over, these grants will help artists continue their valuable work while also sparking creativity and innovation in the community."

Interested artists can apply to the community-grant program at gahannaarts.org or the arts council's Facebook and Instagram pages.

All applications will be evaluated by an independent review panel that will assess proposals in three main categories: application clarity, program quality and community engagement.

Applications should demonstrate a high-impact potential for the community, noting how the outcome will reach and raise the spirits of as many community members as possible.

"If you know a neighborhood artist or maker, one of the best things you can do for them right now is to purchase some of their work," Peck said. "But if you don't know an artist directly, you can help grow our community grant program by visiting gahannaarts.org. Every dollar helps keep local artists employed."

The grant-application deadline is June 1.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla