This year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many arts events to either be canceled or adapt to an online format. Art All Night, Trenton’s annual 24-hour arts and entertainment event, went virtual in August. Now, just a month later, Art All Day, Trenton’s open studio tour and creative showcase, is scheduled to kick off this Saturday at noon in real life.
We recently spoke to Lauren Otis, Executive Director of Artworks, Trenton's visual arts center and the hub of Art All Day, about bringing the popular event back at a time when the arts community as a whole could use some (real) fresh air – while adhering to all COVID-19 safety guidelines, of course.
Jersey Arts: So, the exciting news is that this weekend’s Art All Day event will be in real life, in downtown Trenton. Because of COVID-19, Art All Day’s sort-of counterpart event – Art All Night – was pushed all the way to August, and was virtual. I think it’s interesting that these two things ended up a lot closer together than usual – one virtual, one not.
Lauren Otis: Art All Day has, since its founding in 2012, taken place on the first Saturday in November. For a few reasons, we decided to move it to September this year and see how that went. And we did that last year, long before anyone had any idea of what was going to happen with the coronavirus.
Coincidentally, Art All Night ended up getting pushed from June to August because of the pandemic. So, yes, this year, the two events ended up happening pretty close together. However, Art All Night was virtual, and I’m happy to say that Art All Day will be in real life – with everyone wearing masks and social distancing.
We're really looking forward to doing it this Saturday, which turned out to be the same date as what's known as Ciclovia. It’s an international open streets event where mostly urban areas will designate a street as closed off to traffic and kind of encourage walking and biking. And this year is just the second year that people in Trenton have organized Trenton Ciclovia, so we’re going to be having a lot going on in the streets. We're going to be showcasing public art and art-making demonstrations outside. We’re really excited about this fun overlap; we just got lucky.
JA: How many streets are going to be closed down to regular traffic?
LO: Basically downtown Front Street, between Warren Street and Stockton Street – right downtown, running along Mill Hill Park. We're going to have tours like we always do for Art All Day, mostly walking and biking.
JA: Obviously, the pandemic is a shaping force around this event. What did you have to change to make Art All Day happen this year?
LO: We’ve scaled back the number of sites – and visitors won’t be able to go inside all of them. We’ll be doing a lot more outside or in tents out on the street. So, this year, Art All Day won’t stretch as far out into the four corners of the city, but hopefully we can get back to normal by next year.
But this Saturday is still going to be a breath of fresh air. It’s going to feel good for the city. Artworks will be open. We’ll have studio artists here, and we're going to have several shows in the gallery for the first time since March, when we had to close down. But we’ll be limiting the number of people coming in, and, obviously, masks and social distancing is required.
JA: How has Artworks weathered the storm since COVID-19 first hit?
LO: Well, as we all know, the pandemic has been terrible for businesses and nonprofits alike. Many have had to shut down completely. We worked really hard to try and secure funding and were successful, and are, of course, still trying to keep that part of the equation going. In terms of our programming, after closing down the gallery space, we figured out what we could do virtually – education programming, exhibitions, and Art All Night, which was amazingly successful given the restrictions. We had pretty much everything except the food trucks. It felt good to continue offering our programming to the community.
JA: As a person who's been involved in Art All Day since the beginning, what were some highlights of Art All Night for you this year? What were some important takeaways for you?
LO: When I look back on it now, I think that people were just happy to come together at a time when so much of what we’re used to was either up in the air or canceled altogether – sports, whole theatre seasons, and on and on. We did a lot of live programming, and people loved that. And that 24 hours of programming can still be enjoyed online.
One of the longstanding Art All Night planning people, Cameron Ferrara, who happens to work in television production, pretty much built a television studio at Artworks. He was instrumental in making it happen. So, I was thankful for him. Also, being online, we got people participating from across the country and even overseas.
JA: Art All Day 2020 will feature open studios, demos, public art, pop-up galleries, and lots of other stuff. What's the best way to navigate Art All Day this year?
LO: There will be regular updates on social media and our websites. So, check out artworkstrenton.org, and then like the Art All Day page on Facebook, and the Art All Day Facebook event. There is also a printed program guide and a map, like we always have, that will be available to people on their phones, as well. So, you can pretty much count on just showing up in downtown Trenton and parking either here at Artworks or some of the downtown city parking garages. Then, just come out to Front Street and there will be an information kiosk there. And you can always come to Artworks for any information or guidance.
JA: And there will be food trucks?
LO: Definitely! We have many food vendors and restaurants participating – if not a food truck, there will be a food stand.
JA: Artworks is a Trenton-based organization. It’s a big part of the community. How has COVID-19 impacted your community – the city of Trenton – overall?
LO: It's been quiet downtown – like a lot of downtowns. And that's why I'm excited for Ciclovia and Art All Day. There really hasn't been anything like this since the lockdown. I'm hopeful that it'll get people to see that the city is still standing, and the arts community is still standing, and that they can come on out, in a safe way, and see it for themselves.