(Above: Celeste Schield Jacobi’s daughter, Genevieve, is among her mother’s art students; Schield Jacobi founded Creatrix Realms Art Studio and also works alongside fellow artist David Placencia at his Wheelhaus Arts.)

By Taylor Griggs

David Placencia, the founding instructor at Wheelhaus Arts in Eugene, started thinking about how he would adapt his art studio to the age of coronavirus weeks even before Oregon Gov. Kate Brown mandated a stay-at-home order for all Oregonians.

“We want to make sure we’re doing our civic duty, so whatever the recommendation for social distancing is, we’ll double it,” Placencia said. “But I can’t remember anything like this. The timing is just horrible. We had everything lined up, we had full classes. There are bigger concerns in the world, but this is my corner.”

Placencia is trying to make lemonade out of these lemons, setting up a new project and website under the name Eugene Art Studio, intended to be an interactive web portal for online art classes. To kick things off, he’s posting short tutorial videos to his YouTube channel, designed to showcase some interesting artistic processes and give people an idea of some of the more simple art projects anyone could do from home.

“I never wanted to be a YouTube star, but I will have short videos that give ideas that will be free,” he said.

He’s hoping to get online classes going, allowing kids to interact with him and other students in a classroom simulation.

“We need to make sure these kids can still access art and have that social interaction with each other,” Placencia said. “And we could be in this for the long haul. We need to stay afloat if this lasts for a long time.”

Celeste Jacobi is an artist and instructor who founded Creatrix Realms Art Studio and has been working alongside Placencia in the WheelHaus Arts space, now virtually at Eugene Art Studio.

“We talked about bringing classes online before this happened, but this has forced our hand,” Jacobi said. “In some ways, it is an opportunity to branch out. It’s great to connect with people outside of Eugene. Students want to meet others who create in the same style as they do.”

Jacob Riddle, a visiting art professor at the University of Oregon School of Art + Design, shares that sentiment. In his past work, he already had realized that the internet can provide opportunities for artists to branch out and collaborate with artists around the world.

“With the internet, we have the power to ignore geographic location,” Riddle said. “It opens up a whole new world, it gives us access to a global group of artists.”

Riddle doesn’t focus on just one medium in his art and instruction (“Interdisciplinary doesn’t sound like enough. I’m radically anti-disciplinary,” he said). He is working with the Art and Technology program at the University of Oregon, and has been thinking a lot about what the transition to virtual teaching means for his classes that are already technology-oriented.

“I’m worried about losing the group dynamic of discussing a reading or an artwork or ideas in an open space. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to work with that,” Riddle said. “I’m very optimistic that we can create a similar space to a classroom, but it’s going to take a lot of careful planning and world-building to foster the same environment.”

For art students of all ages, regardless of medium, the access to materials might be tricky due to economic tension and the shuttering of art supply stores.

While Placencia recognizes that many of his young students are already setting up home studios and creating professional kits for themselves, he knows that not everyone can do that.

His video demonstrations have included some recipes and tutorials so that scrappy artists can create their own materials, including one illustrating how to make adhesive paint with glue and food coloring.

Riddle’s classes at UO are often heavily technology-oriented, possibly hindering students who don’t have access to the software-equipped computers on the closed campus.

“I am going to focus on teaching free or open source, more accessible software,” he said. “But I always try to keep my classes fluid and flexible. It’s impossible to know what will happen until I know the students.”

There is the legitimate question of why art is an important focus at all right now. When there’s so much danger and uncertainty in the world, doesn’t this seem petty?

These artists say no, of course not. If anything, this is the most important time to be doing art.

“Art is a way to propel and activate society, and when art sales dry up, individual artists might have a hard time. But if they’ve come this far, they’ve already experienced hardship,” Placencia said. “Art is also very therapeutic, it’s a practice that will help stave off cabin fever and activate creativity. This is the most essential time to do art.”

Jacobi said that after a day of teaching virtual art classes, she felt a huge weight lifted off her chest.

“At the end of the day I was completely overjoyed, and I wasn’t expecting that,” she said. “I didn’t have the stress of reading the news all day, which can really put a strain on your mental health. I felt like nothing was wrong, after teaching all day.”

Amber Eggleton, the Education Coordinator at Maude Kerns Art Center, is looking at the educational options for the art center going forward. She also thinks it’s important to maintain community morale through the fine arts, even in this turbulent and ever-changing time.

“The lack of normalcy that all these kids are going to have for a while is going to be very difficult for them, and we’d like to help maintain some normalcy,” Eggleton said. “We want to be a resource for the community still. The arts are super important, and now that everyone has a lot of free time, they might have the opportunity to dive into projects that they felt like they didn’t have time for.”

Older kids and adults need to establish a sense of normalcy, too. When thinking about how to handle the elephant in the room during his classes, Riddle is still trying to find a balance.

“It doesn’t feel appropriate to completely shift the class to being about the coronavirus, but I want to allow the space for it,” he said.

Riddle also knows that at this point, his courses aren’t the first thing on many students’ minds.

“In a time like this, these classes are not top-priority for the students or myself. We should talk about how serious it is and put things in perspective,” he said. “I want to make this a space that alleviates stress and anxiety instead of adding to it, making it a place where students can come to think, create and ask questions that may or may not be connected to the current crisis.”

Contact the artists/instructors

David Placencia — WheelHaus Arts, 160 E. Broadway, Eugene; 541-521-7411; online at wheelhausarts.com

Celeste Schield Jacobi — Creatrix Realms Art Studio, 160 E. Broadway, Eugene; 541-913-2027; on Facebook at Creatrix Realms Art Studio; online at crart.store

Jacob Riddle — Visiting professor in School of Art + Design, University of Oregon; email jriddle3@uoregon.edu

Amber Eggleton — Education coordinator, Maude Kerns Art Center; 1910 E. 15th Ave., Eugene; 541-345-1571; online at mkartcenter.org

David Placencia shows a piece of student artwork created at Wheelhaus Arts, his art studio for kids located in downtown Eugene