COVID-19 pandemic's impact on 40 West Arts District

Artists talk about life in Lakewood during the COVID-19 era

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Since bringing the Landt Creative Space art studio to the 40 West Arts District in Lakewood nearly two years ago, Tabetha Landt has spent the first Friday of every single month at her studio.

The 40 West Arts District has routinely hosted First Friday events on the first Friday of every month where all of the art district's galleries and creative businesses would open to the public. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 40 West Arts District was empty as can be on April 3.

“I kept looking at the clock and was thinking `Wow, there should be hundreds of people coming through (Landt Creative Space) right now'. But we are getting used to the quiet,” said Landt.

Although an in-person event didn't happen, the 40 West Arts District got creative and offered a virtual First Friday event April 3. The art district provided a video walk-through of its galleries and shared artist stories and art.

Residents could chime in on the event through the 40 West Arts District's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Aside from changing the dynamics of the art district's First Friday event, COVID-19 has impacted artists throguhout the 40 West Arts District in many ways.

Art classes moved online

A large source of income for Landt's studio comes from art classes that she teaches four times a week. Landt typically teaches acrylics and some oil painting classes, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has moved all of her classes online.

“I made that decision before the stay-at-home order,” said Landt. Colorado has been under a stay-at-home order since March 26. That order is scheduled to last through April 26.

“It felt weird having people come in. I wanted to play it safe and try (her classes) out on the internet,” she said.

Landt is hosting her classes through the online video communications platform Zoom, and she says she has lowered her prices down from $38 a class to $25. So far, her students have gotten to paint mermaids, rowboats, crows and more.

“I can't walk around and look at (student paintings) and help them that way, but when they need help, they hold their work up to the screen so I can see it. It has really worked well, actually,” said Landt. “People seem happy to meet face to face still, but it has been an adjustment.”

First Fridays provide another source of income for Landt and give her the opportunity to display and sell her work to the community. Since an in-person event wasn't feasible at the beginning of April, Landt participated in the virtual First Friday event by inviting people to make art with her through Facebook Live and Zoom.

She said she believes that if people can, they should still work to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We're all in this together. If people want to come to classes and have another resource to work through the stress, I am there for them,” Landt said.

Canceled art shows and rent struggles

For the past six months, Christy Seving, an artist at NEXT Gallery at the 40 West Arts District, was working on an art show that was scheduled to debut on April 3 at the gallery called “Asking a Shadow to Dance.”

She collaborated with local poets and created paintings to pair along with poems. But COVID-19 changed everything, and for now, her show is postponed.

“It was a little heartbreaking, but when I was able to realize it was not going to happen, I let it go and looked around and saw the huge things people are facing,” said Seving, who temporarily lost her day job as a hairstylist.

“People are struggling to eat and pay their rent and have their basic needs met. Who would've ever guessed something like this would've happened,” she said.

Other artists in the 40 West Arts District know the pain of working on art for the public to only have it be temporarily suspended like Carrie MaKenna, co-owner of the Arts Carrie MaKenna Studio & Gallery in the district.

MaKenna had artwork on display at various places in the metro area, including at her gallery, the 40 West Arts Gallery, Colorado Mills Mall and D'art Gallery in Denver. But due to the pandemic, none of those locations are open.

“When we have the work planned for an exhibit, we have a spent a year on it, and a lot of exhibit schedules are out for two years in the future. If you lose an exhibit time, there isn't a way to make it up,” said MaKenna. “As you're going on, you have to get back in line.”

MaKenna said the in-person First Friday event being canceled hurt her art sales, and she is concerned Arts Carrie MaKenna Studio & Gallery won't be able to stay in Lakewood as she has bills to pay for her business, including rent, utilities and internet.

“When it comes down to a crisis like this when people are losing jobs and don't have money for their own rents or mortgages, the last thing they will do is buy art. There is going to be an impact on art districts throughout the Denver metro area,” said MaKenna. “It would be a huge blow to the 40 West Arts District if the galleries and artists can't stay here.”

NEXT Gallery is also concerned about staying put in the district, according to Josh Davy, the art gallery's director. The gallery is owned by its artists, but with art sales down, paying rent is going to be a challenge after May, Davy said.

“We are going to be in a lot of trouble if (the COVID-19 pandemic) keeps going, and I'm sure all the other galleries in 40 West are in the same place we are. Lakewood has worked hard to build this district up, and if we can't figure out how we are going to get through this, (40 West Arts District) can collapse pretty easily,” he said.

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