Amidst the COVID-19 world pandemic, arts and culture quietly closed its doors to the public. As people were reeling from news of sickness, financial anxiety, and the inability to see or embrace their loved ones, institutions and organizations across the world cancelled classes, workshops, exhibits, and events. The arts community in Milton followed suit. During a time when people have lost jobs, and access to the things they need the most, the importance of arts and culture falls lower on the list of priorities.

However, the significance of the arts, and its direct stimulation of the economy is not to be overlooked. Jennifer Smith, Milton Film Festival Director elaborates, “It may not seem like a big priority, but the livelihoods of thousands of people are connected with Canada’s arts, cultural, and tourism industries.” Smith, who feels fortunate that the coronavirus arrived in Canada after the 2020 Milton.

Film Festival was complete, is hopeful that various levels of the government will consider supporting these sectors in time. In the interim, MFF is offering a Virtual Film Festival (perhaps the most adaptable art to an online format) by compiling the best films they’ve featured in the past seven years.

Local visual arts collaborative FASM (Fine Arts Society of Milton) was keen to introduce a fresh approach with an “Inspiration! Studio Tour” at the end of May 2020. The event has now been postponed. Other projects, like their 100 Years/100 Women, Celebrating Milton’s Trailblazers exhibition, conceived by artist Nancy Cuttle, did not finish its rotation of Milton facilities, and currently remains at Town Hall, closed to the public. The show’s curator is disappointed but finds comfort knowing that “works of art and their stories have no stale date.” Cuttle herself has struggled to find her own artistic inspiration during this time, but has found a way to keep her hands busy and her mind at ease by contributing to a long-term visual project focused on ancestry. Fine Arts Society Past President Ursula McDermid is delighted to see “many members active on their social pages, connecting and challenging each other to show new artwork, and encouraging and supporting one another.”

As the weeks of quarantine accumulated, Milton youth musician Sarah Campbell Mills watched her friends and family members struggling with their new reality. She channelled what she saw into words and wrote a new song entitled “Living Room.” The poignant lyrics speak to the loneliness we are all feeling, the comfort we are searching for, and the innocence we long for.

For those who have youth and children struggling with the COVID-19 situation, and the challenges of quarantine, local Child and Youth Care Practitioners Resiliency & Me are offering support. Despite needing to cancel their March break camps, art classes, and in-person one-on-one counselling sessions, Resiliency & Me is offering free online counselling sessions for both local and global children & youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brooke Belvedere-Rawson works with Milton Youth Theatre Productions. The theatre group was set to present a spring production entitled “Madagascar a Musical Adventure Jr” at the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton. With the Centre and all Town facilities now closed, the show has been postponed until next spring. Belvedere-Rawson says the group still hopes to move ahead with production plans for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in autumn 2020, and are staying active with members through acting, singing and dance challenges on social media.

Youth motivation doesn’t stop there. Enthusiastic students at Jayanti’s Tabla Academy reached out to their teacher Jayanti Singh to inquire about conducting virtual classes online. In a unique twist of inspiration, Singh is developing a series of classes that will be taught by her older students, providing them the opportunity to play music, and also cultivate leadership skills.

Author Diksha Pal Narayan was excited to release her third book in the Ved and Friends Series. The newest addition to the line-up, “Ved and Friends Investigate Your Family” could not receive an official public launch in April, but in many ways is the perfect book for families in self isolation. The manuscript is closer to a journal and allows children to interview their extended family to discover more about themselves, their heritage and their culture.

Pal Narayan is also part of the South Asian Mommies of Milton group. The collection of women banded together in the early days of the quarantine to create a group dance video in which they all boogied to the same song – “Kudi nu nachne de.” This upbeat tune highlights the uniqueness of women, dancing to your own beat, and the importance of “me time.” The compilation was joyfully received by the community.

Men II Boys had numerous gigs lined up over the coming months that have been interrupted in the planning process. Regular rehearsals have been suspended, and, as member John Carroll describes, replaced by questions of “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”, as they use Zoom Video Conferencing to stay in touch. The group is also uploading some of their previously recorded music to keep fans amused and entertained. Carroll says, “In these difficult days, it is important to keep perspective…to be mindful of others. But also to have fun – whenever and however that can happen.”

Wedding and Event Photographer Sarah Arfan says, “I’ve always been an optimistic person, and even now I do not want to lose my faith of looking on the bright side.” Still, even with a positive attitude, Arfan has seen all of her upcoming work commitments cancelled one by one, and clients have become unable to pay invoices. “Overall, my business has been affected in ways I had never imagined.” The talented photographer is using the downtime to learn new methods, improve in her area of expertise and explore ways in which she can bring her skillset to an online platform.

Aparna Rangnekar is a local visual artist. She sits on the boards of both Arts Milton, and the Arts & Culture Festival of South Asia Brampton. She’s been invigorated by the online presence of artists. “It is inspiring to see more and more artists from all streams reinventing themselves and sharing their creativity on social media.” Rangnekar is also embracing this opportunity to develop her artistic practice by putting her ideas down on paper, learning how to paint on the iPad, and singing Bollywood duets with her husband. She reminds us: “We have been given time to look inwards, to find channels of betterment, [and we are] forced to take a pause and re-evaluate what makes us happy, reconnect with family, and appreciate the smaller joys of life.”

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