The arts may be one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but if it's up to Tristin St. Mary, administrative manager of The Art Garage in Green Bay, better times are ahead.
St. Mary, the sole paid employee, says she looks at her job through the lens of an entrepreneur with the same degree of passion for success. Like a business owner, she has a long list of responsibilities.
"I develop budgets, coordinate all events and performances, negotiate contracts with tenants and rentals, handle donor relations, do all marketing and website updates, and coordinate and curate all of the art gallery exhibitions," she said.
That's just part of it. Most importantly, St. Mary wants the community to know the value of the arts.
"Art helps bring creativity and inspiration to everyone's life," she said. "Even if you are walking down the street and see an awesome mural, it helps put your mind in another place. It adds dimension to your life."
The Art Garage, with a stated mission to encourage an appreciation for and participation in the visual, performing and literary arts, was founded by local artists in 2006 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Step by step, with the dedication of a board of directors and volunteers, it grew at its location in the Olde Main District. By 2011, it had expanded with a board of 21 and 150 volunteers. The cannery complex where it is located was purchased in 2015.
St. Mary works with the board and directs volunteers. With the extra challenges of the pandemic, her job changes daily. COVID-19 precautions are in place as she adopts programming.
"When this first started, I moved home with my parents because I didn't have internet," St. Mary said. "I am used to running around all day, and it was really difficult to sit around. We were down for two and a half months, and it was hard. I initiated a virtual gallery and workshops and we made it through so that we're now getting back to normal."
Normal is not quite the same. But the popular Holiday Art Fair will go on with a limited number of vendors and monitoring of the number of people who enter.
"We have 25 local artisans who will be joining us, and I encourage everyone to come," St. Mary said. "We have pushed to do this event because it is important for the artisans since they are struggling at this time and they need support. There is also a virtual option and art can be purchased through our website."
Art is sold on the website (www.theartgarage.org) and Facebook page. She says the art not only supports the artists, but it also makes great gifts.
"It is special to be supporting artists locally," she said. "You are positively affecting an artist in the Green Bay community and allowing them to keep doing what they're doing. Instead of just going and buying a reproduced piece of art that anyone can have, this is feeding an artist."
Other support for The Art Garage could include participation in an array of classes; either in person or virtually.
"The classes are going on as usual other than the fact that we're limiting class sizes, social distancing workshop tables, requiring masks, and sanitizing everything," she said. "We're also offering virtual classes with to-go supplies."
Although many of the workshops have been canceled due to the pandemic, St. Mary says that it is promising to have regular hours again and see greater interest. Having a creative outlet is much more than a fun pastime. The effects on emotional health are well documented.
"Creativity can increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety and even improve immune system functioning," St. Mary said. "Positivity lowers stress and expands our perspective so that we notice more possibilities in our lives."
As she looks to next year, she hopes to once again have bustling summer art camps for kids, live performances, full studio spaces, a busy workshop schedule, gallery shows, and a growing community of artists and art enthusiasts.
If all goes well, The Art Garage will expand into adjacent space.
In the interim, St. Mary will be doing whatever she can to help artists. One of her recent programs, for Small Business Saturday, entailed putting together care packages of art supplies for artists who are in need. For all of these things, she says, donors are needed.
"Individuals can support us by purchasing gifts in our gallery and small gift shop area, purchasing a gift card for a workshop or becoming a patron of our programs," she said. "Our interest is in maintaining a thriving community of artists who will participate in events, such as gallery exhibitions, and share their experience, expertise, and camaraderie with fellow artists both within the building and in the local community."
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.