City native and Grammy winner Rhiannon Giddens released a cover of “Just the Two of Us” in a YouTube video.
At Triad Stage, Preston Lane, its producing artistic director, is writing two plays to be shown via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
And artists Jenna Rice and Raman Bhardwaj have transformed a former mail truck into a rolling tribute to front-line hospital and health care workers in the battle against COVID-19.
Each shows how the novel coronavirus pandemic and the resulting quarantine have spurred artists to create new art.
“We all have the urge to create,” Rice said. “This time in quarantine has given us more power to do so.”
The pandemic has canceled live performances and sent home artists and audiences, leaving artists with little or no income.
Many artists and venues took their shows online.
Now more have begun to make new work about life in a pandemic.
“I think every creative now is doing the best they can, and it’s producing some awesome work,” illustrator Beka Butts said.
To Lane, “One of the most important aspects of being an artist is being responsive to the world we live in.
“I’m always looking for ways to tell stories, engage with audiences and create performances,” he said. “If I can’t make my work on a stage, I will find new platforms to use for storytelling.”
Jenna Rice and Raman Bhardwaj
Rice’s mural depicts an all-too-familiar sight: the larger-than-life face of a nurse wearing a mask. Half of the face is lit; the other half, in darkness.
Rice calls the nurse “The Hero Behind the Mask.”
She has spray-painted the mural on the expansive side of a former mail truck.
On the other side, Bhardwaj has painted a scene of comic-book superheroes battling the coronavirus.
Rice calls her mural of the nurse “The Light.”
“It shows how our health care workers are the light in our time of darkness,” she said.
Rice said she drew inspiration from an image she found searching Google. She first painted it last month at The Pit, a street art locale near the train station in High Point.
“I wanted to capture the emotion, especially in her eyes,” Rice said. “She might look a little frustrated with all she is dealing with. This is also another way to remind people to stay at home and stay socially distant, so you don’t add any more work for health care workers who are working so hard for us.”
Local developer and restaurateur Marty Kotis arranged for Rice and Bhardwaj to paint their designs on his truck.
Over the past few years, Kotis has brought nearly 200 works of street art from local and international artists to his buildings downtown and in Midtown, the heavily traveled district of restaurants and entertainment along the Battleground Avenue corridor.
Rice’s work has become the design for T-shirts that raise money to help feed workers at Cone Health.
Another result: Jennifer Youngwood of Sylva, the nurse whose image appears in the mural, has come to see it here.
Rice and Kotis now plan to paint the top of the truck, so health care workers can see those tributes from hospitals’ top windows.
Kotis bought a harness and a lift, which he hopes can suspend Rice over the truck in “Mission: Impossible” style while she paints.
Such projects help keep artists creating when many commissions have been postponed or canceled by businesses closed by the pandemic.
“I am trying to use this time to focus on me and my artwork and trying new stuff and perfecting my skills,” Rice said.
As long as they can sustain themselves financially, Rice said, “it’s a good release for a lot of artists to be able to escape into their own world while they work on their art.”
She said she hopes it inspires more awareness and appreciation of the arts.
“The arts are helping keep people alive right now — TV, movies, working on arts and crafts,” she said. “Art has been great escape for a lot of people.”
Local banjo picker Andy Eversole didn’t set out to write a song about the coronavirus pandemic.
But that’s what happened with “Quarantined With You.”
“I was just trying to process everything that was happening with my own thoughts and feelings,” Eversole said. “Those things inside of us are what comes out in the art.
“Besides that, I’ve always just tried to turn dark matter into love songs,” he said. “It’s just one of the ways I perceive and make sense of the world.”
He had just traveled through Brazil with his music and video project, Banjo Earth. There, he met a special woman. When he returned to North Carolina, they made plans for her to visit.
Then the new coronavirus swept the world. Travel plans came to a halt.
A few days later, Eversole awakened during the night with a song in his head. He recorded “Quarantined With You” the next day, made a video and on March 17, put in on YouTube.
It took off, with more than 56,600 views to date.
“The public reaction to the song was incredible,” Eversole said, noting that it was one of the first published songs about the quarantine.
“At the time, the situation was very new, fluid, and uncertain,” he said. “There was a lot of confusion and fear to what was happening. I think people found a bit of solace in the song. Maybe it gave them a chuckle, maybe it lightened their load for a minute, or maybe it reminded them of their loved ones that were quarantined far away.”
Eversole doesn’t plan to write more songs about the pandemic.
“Now that the death toll has gotten so high, it’s a very delicate subject to address,” he said. “You have to be careful as an artist to not seem unsympathetic to those who’ve been severely affected.
“At this point, we’re all just trying to get through this and get back to living our lives,” he said. “This is a very sad time, with death and illness, our loneliness in quarantine, the loss of certain fundamental rights, the loss of live music and the ability to freely be with other human beings, the loss of our businesses and jobs.
“My job as an artist I feel is to bring people together and lift people up,” Eversole said. “If a song comes my way that does that for people, then I will write and play it for them.”
Giddens didn’t write a new song in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, the Greensboro native and Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, along with composer Sxip Shirey, dusted off their cover version of singer-songwriter Bill Withers’ and smooth-jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.’s “Just the Two of Us.”
She created a video to go with it, featuring family and friends from around the world, many wearing face masks.
The video can be seen on YouTube.
It asks viewers to support the Global Giving Coronavirus Relief Fund.
In her newsletter, Giddens said they thought the song “would serve as the perfect backdrop to the reality of where we are now — staying inside so that our health care workers have the best chance to fight this virus that cares nothing for the artificial divisions we have put up between us.”
“So whether it’s just the two of us, or just a few of us; whether the lockdown has been for months or its about to be lifted; COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future, and the more we can be alone together now, the better the future will be,” she said.
Triad Stage has stopped producing live theater during the pandemic.
The downtown professional theater took its concerts and play readings online.
For two months, Lane, the theater’s producing artistic director, has spent much of his workday in meetings via Zoom videoconferencing.
“Early on, I became intrigued by the way Zoom can be manipulated and the creative opportunities for each Zoom square in a grid,” Lane said. “That intrigue made me start imagining how I could use it for live performance.”
So Lane is writing two virtual plays to be performed using Zoom.
“I’m always interested in exploring how to move the form forward, to seize the next technology,” he said.
He said he hopes to finish the plays early this summer and find a way to perform them.
“Of course, it isn’t theater as we know it,” he said. “But it allows me to bring people virtually together in a space to experience a story performed by actors in the moment.”
Tony-winning playwright Richard Nelson has done the same with “What Do We Need to Talk About?” Commissioned by New York’s Public Theater, it has been called “the first great original play of quarantine” by The New Yorker.
One of Lane’s developing plays uses Zoom for a series of meetings, as a community debates how and when to reopen. It is designed to be interactive, with audience participation.
The other begins as online connection between people in the Zoom platform and then, with music, spirals into participants exploring distance in their own lives and in the lives of their ancestors.
“If I was a painter, and I couldn’t find the canvas I wanted, I’d paint on cardboard,” Lane said. “I can’t have the stage I want, so I make new stages. My work is always in response to the world I live in.”
The technological challenges of Zoom present new artistic territory for Lane.
“I’m struggling to figure out ways that I can put characters together in what seems to be the same room even though it’s separate Zoom boxes,” Lane said.
“Zoom is great for isolation,” he said, “but there are points when I want people to be able to be together. It demands some creativity.”
Nils Westergard and Phillip Marsh
A mural of a gloved hand making the “peace” or “victory” sign decorates the brick wall of SouthEnd Brewing Co. downtown on West Lewis Street.
Local street-art advocate Phillip Marsh arranged for Virginia artist Nils Westergard to paint it.
They drew inspiration for the sign of the times from Abigail Harris, a physician assistant with Cone Health, and others on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.
“I am hesitant to do walls based on current events, since those events obviously change and the hope is that walls do not,” Westergard said. “But this image felt like it was simple enough to hold meaning beyond COVID.”
The design took root when a friend in Belgium asked Westergard for a design for a series of postcards to be sold to benefit hospitals there. Westergard created a small painting of a gloved hand for the project.
Marsh then invited Westergard to create a piece here. Westergard had painted other murals at Windsor Recreation Center and AWOL Fitness near The Depot train station.
The hand will extend figuratively beyond the wall.
Westergard has donated 10 hand-sprayed prints to be sold at auction here. Marsh has partnered with ArtsGreensboro on the auction to benefit the local arts community, which has lost income from canceled gigs and projects during the pandemic.
“As creatives, we heed the call of our community in times of good and bad,” Marsh said. “We were able to convey a message of love for our professional calling and love for our community.”
With the coronavirus pandemic, illustrator Beka (pronounced Becca) Butts has temporarily lost her part-time job in the restaurant industry.
“For the first time in several years, I had nothing but time to focus on my art,” Butts said. “I had to sit back and go, ‘Start making work about what you’re feeling right now.’ ”
She created the pen-and-ink illustration “Alone Together.”
It became part of her series of illustrations quoting a word or two. Organic patterning, nature and folk art inspire the intricate background.
That enables her audience to make art, too.
“I think people are craving content like that,” Butts said. “We all have Netflix and cable and Hulu and TV shows and podcasts. But there’s something really nice about the way people are seeking out more interactive content.”
Screen printer Peter Day has turned the “Alone Together” design into art for a T-shirt. The first batch sold quickly, Butts said.
“People are responding to the design and the concept behind it,” she said. “It’s very much how a lot of us are feeling.”
Butts said she is also impressed by what she sees happening in the arts community.
“Just seeing the plethora of what all of the artists and musicians and makers in this area are doing right now to keep themselves sane, to create work, to make money, to share what they can with who they can — it warms my heart,” she said.