Arts & Leisure

Middlebury Studio School weathers COVID-19 storm

THE MIDDLEBURY STUDIO School cautiously reopened its doors in July for socially-distanced ceramics classes, allowing both adults and youth to get back onto the studio.

MIDDLEBURY — When the pandemic closed Middlebury Studio School’s doors in March, like everyone else, the board and staff hoped for the best and started planning for the unknown. Planning included projects that could be safely done in the empty school. Kathy Clarke, studio manager and clay instructor, started cleaning and clearing out all the clutter that has accumulated over the past five years. Then she completed a long-wished-for project, sealing the Mexican tile floors in order to make mopping up clay dust easier. The board moved on some projects filed under “long-term plans” that they hope will improve the safety of the school. Construction of windows to improve air circulation and light in the handbuilding studio will be started soon and a new furnace with better air filters is in the works. 
Another big hurdle was loss of income for the school since class tuition accounts for most of the budget. The school was grateful to receive a Vermont Arts Council Cultural Relief Grant early in the shutdown and has applied for the Economic Recovery Grant through the State of Vermont. An Studio School fundraising team got to work on “Get the Picture,” a virtual fundraiser, which offered an original artwork of a pet from a photo as a thank you gift in exchange for a donation. It turned out that the community loves their pets and arts organization. Twenty artists stepped up to paint or draw portraits and in the fundraiser earned more than $8,000 in two months. The portraits are on display in the virtual gallery at middleburystudioschool.org 
Some COVID-19-related innovations for taking art classes may stick around after the virus is long gone. Staff got to work on creating online classes for children via Zoom and were surprised to find children from Washington, D.C., Hawaii and Minnesota in Eileen Gombosi’s first live classes. The first adult classes via Zoom were launched in June and more are planned for the future. With all of the arts and clay summer camps canceled, the clay studio has been offering clay projects in a box that can be picked up. Included are the needed supplies with instruction and the finished clay projects are dropped off for firing.
In early July, reduced-sized classes resumed on site. The staff and board worked together to keep on top of the governor’s plans for phased reopening and researched best practices for resuming smaller, socially distanced classes with everyone wearing masks. A 16-by-20-foot tent went in behind the studio and now serves as an outdoor classroom. Sculptor and good friend of Middlebury Studio School Tim Fisher built an outdoor sink next to the tent. Screens were put on doorways to improve air flow while keeping bugs out. Students will see other changes that are a sign of the times. The wheel room now has spots for four students instead of the previous nine wheels for throwing pots. There is a sign-in at the front door for all people entering the building. Anyone who has traveled from areas that Vermont deems unsafe is asked to quarantine for two weeks before attending a class and, of course, anyone with symptoms is asked to stay home.
Not everything has changed. Studio School teachers are masked but teaching the art they know best. Upcoming classes include wheel and handbuilding clay classes for adults and children, a workshop on making mugs, classes in pastels, oil painting, watercolors, book making and garden design. 
For more information on all the latest online and in person offerings for adults and children, go to middleburystudioschool.org or email [email protected].

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