One of the Carnegie Arts Center’s many art classes is held outside the North Tonawanda facility.

After shutting its doors to members of the public in March, the Carnegie Arts Center in North Tonawanda reopened in July, as a part of phase four in the New York State Reopening Plan. Though there are no exhibitions in the gallery now, the center has been working on its online exhibits and programs throughout the past few months.

Natalie Brown, the program coordinator for the Carnegie Arts Center, has been working hard to make sure the center has a steady stream of events happening. The center’s reopening plan included establishing a committee ensuring the center abides by any and all mandates from the state, as well as having the proper supplies, which Brown says has been helpful.

“Most of our programming has been taking place outside on our lawn,” she said. “We have a beautiful lawn space, which I’m so grateful for, because it has been proven that being outside and socially distant means slower levels of the virus spreading. We’ve been mostly programming outside, we’ve had a few concerts and art classes, family friendly-art classes out on the lawn. We are limiting every event to 50 people per the mandates.”

The concerts have sold out quickly while the art classes bring in a modest number of participants. Brown had to reschedule a lot of exhibitions which would have been on display in the summer but have now been pushed back to September. She didn’t want artists work to hang inside where no one would see it.

Other parts of the reopening plan are cleaning the restrooms every hour and people have to wear masks when they come in the building. Aside from this, they have been taking things month by month, making sure that people remain healthy. During the early days of the pandemic, numerous festivals were cancelled, including Canalfest, which the Carnegie Arts Center helps plan. They were able to do a virtual art festival that ran for the entire month of July, and had varied results.

“It seems to go really well,” Brown said. “We had 138 artists on the website and, I think every virtual event is a learning experience. Some artists sold art work, some artists didn’t even get a visit on their website. It depended on who was visiting our website and that would lead to the artists website.

“We also highlighted these artists on our social media. All of July was all about that virtual festival and trying to keep supporting artists even though we’re closed.”

Brown has been working on other ideas, just in case the center has to close again or for people who aren’t quite comfortable coming into the gallery space. She said there have been thoughts of an art kit being given out to families, but this is still in the planning stages. There have been some thoughts to hybrid programs with some parts in person and some being virtual.

During the transition back to being at the center, Brown said there have been some worries about making sure they were doing things which abided by the New York state code but Brown said that once they got the hang of things and the new rules, it all came just a little bit easier. At first, getting cleaning supplies proved to be a challenge due to their rarity. She’s grateful that patrons have been following the rules, with feedback from the community being overwhelmingly positive.

“People have been dying to come back and see some art, and experience the arts, music and art classes,” she said. “People love the outdoor programming we’ve been doing. I think it’s a great way to keep people safe but also experience the arts. Everyone been really comfortable and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our outdoor concerts and outdoor classes.”

While the weather is still good, Brown is trying to get as many classes and concerts outdoors as she can.

She is unsure what will happen once the weather gets colder and things move indoors because people might feel uncomfortable about the change. Usually the season is planned out way in advance, but things are planned month to month so announcements are being made on a shorter notice than usual.

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