Local art guild in Tucson thrives amid pandemic

A free professional development in October is available to art teachers in the Baton Rogue area.
A free professional development in October is available to art teachers in the Baton Rogue area.(Pexels)
Updated: Feb. 28, 2021 at 1:57 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When the COVID-19 pandemic and first lockdown hit, the board members of the Tucson Handweavers & Spinners Guild (THSG), one of the oldest continuously operating arts guilds in Southern Arizona, met to discuss how to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

As a not-for-profit community organization, the guild board members knew that to suspend its vital programming might mean the end of the nearly 50-year-old organization.  Face-to-face meetings, programs, workshops, outreach, show and sales events were all cancelled, putting a dent in the revenue the guild relied upon to survive.

The group seized upon the events of the pandemic as an opportunity to grow and enrich its offerings for the community while keeping its members safe. The guild found community support, first in the form of a grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, which awarded a grant of a membership to Catchafire, a technical services company that serves non-profits by matching volunteer professionals who want to donate their time with nonprofits who need their skills. With the guidance from professionals at Catchafire, the guild developed its on-line programming and marketing skills to reach its members and others during the pandemic and beyond. Guidance from Catchafire has allowed the board to engage in long-range planning to ensure that the guild will be thriving when it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023.

The work of the guild was further enhanced when the Tucson Handweavers and Spinners Guild received a Tucson CARES for Arts and Culture Grant funded by the City of Tucson We Are One/Somos Uno Resiliency Fund administered by the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona. The Tucson CARES for Arts and Culture Grant program directs federal relief funds allocated to the City of Tucson through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This grant replaced a portion of the revenue that the guild normally generated through special shows and sales events and workshop registrations and has allowed the guild to continue to serve the community.

Educational programs, speakers, guild meetings, study group meetings and workshops were re-designed to be offered remotely, on-line. The guild was able to purchase modest software, on-line services, and equipment for streaming, filming and editing events and meetings which will continue to be used after the pandemic. Members of the board ramped up their video editing skills to edit and preserve these events in an online library. The guild now boasts an online library of more than 30 videos featuring internationally known fiber artists as guest speakers; meetings of study groups in which members share work, advice and techniques in tapestry, knitting, multi-shaft loom weaving, beading, braiding, rug weaving, and wearable art; show and share of recent work by guild members; workshops; and interviews with guild leaders.

Speakers this past fall and spring have included Penelope Starr on Navajo Rug Restoration, Jennifer Moore on Rainbow Doubleweave, Tien Chiu on Painted Warps, Dr. Perri Klass on Knitting as Therapy During a Pandemic, and Ruth Manning on Tapestry Shapes and Cupcakes.

The guild is planning a series of virtual “studio visits with the artist”, exploring on-line classes for beginners who may want to experiment with weaving and other fiber arts and developing capacity for remote outreach to schools, museums and community organizations.

As a result of this rich on-line presence, the guild has attracted fiber artists from across the country to its general meetings and workshops. A recent four-day workshop sponsored by the guild featuring internationally renowned weaver Jennifer Moore attracted participants from Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota as well as Tucson. The guild has another on-line workshop on Kumihimo (the Japanese art of braiding) featuring Rosalie Neilson scheduled for March 25 and 26. Southern Arizona guild members who live as far afield as Ajo, Tombstone, and Green Valley and snowbirds, who are usually absent in the warmer months, are delighted that they can maintain active participation in guild activities.

As the online work of the guild has become known in the fiber arts world, it is now receiving requests for technical assistance from guilds in Southern California and Seattle who wish to replicate its success during the pandemic.

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