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Portside Arts moves art classes to online platform.

Virtual masterpiece: Instructor and artist Ellen Rivedal provides a demo painting, which will be replicated by students during the Friday, May 8 Art on the Rocks virtual class. PHOTO: ELLEN RIVEDAL.

Many local businesses and organizations have had to find creative ways to serve clients, while adhering to social distancing and closure mandates associated with COVID-19.

Portside Arts Center, 2531 E. Lehigh Ave., is one of them.

The nonprofit arts center will now offer online many of its in-person classes.

Due to restrictions on operations put in place by the city, the last time Portside held an in-person class was March 13.

And, while moving classes to an online format will certainly help financially, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

“We always have our largest fundraising event, the Lehigh Avenue Arts Festival, every year to specifically raise money for our Summer Arts Camp scholarship fund. This year, we cannot have this event due to the virus,” said Kim Creighton, executive director at Portside. “We have also gone to many of our neighborhood businesses in past years and asked for them to sponsor a child or give a donation to our scholarship fund, but this year we cannot safely do this, either. With many of our local businesses also struggling to stay open when this mess is over, we feel bad asking them for help. We worry about our teachers and our families being healthy and able to pay their rent.”

Part of that financial burden will be relieved by a Payroll Protection Program loan, which Portside secured through Port Richmond Savings Bank.

Staff will continue in their work as usual, just in the new format.

“We are blessed with an amazing team, education director, Sarah Damiano, our marketing and operations coordinator, Claudia Bokulich, and the best teachers we could ever wish for, all working together and doing a phenomenal job keeping our children engaged in the arts,” Creighton said.

Youth enrolled in the after-school program are already receiving instruction online five days a week for 30 to 60 minutes.

Teachers post recorded videos of different types of crafts with visual descriptions.

“Seeing their teacher and classmates on a regular basis has been so important for our students during this time,” Creighton said. “Several parents have commented that their child or children are like different people after their art class, more relaxed and content.”

For the classes that will start online within the next week or so, projects are being chosen that require limited supplies that can be found in the home.

“With the adult classes, we are having an Art on the Rocks painting class this month, and when you sign up you will be given a list of the supplies, approximately $20, that you will need to partake in the classes, and where to order them,” Creighton said.

Classes will be held via Zoom, and Portside plans to have a maximum of 20 participants.

Creighton had hoped to offer online classes when Portside opened in 2008, and although it’s been an adjustment, the current situation has allowed her to make that vision a reality.

“I guess you could say it’s the temporary ‘new normal,’ a great relaxing experience with a gifted teacher in the privacy of your own home,” she said. “I think it is a great way to expose children, teens and adults to the arts from anywhere in the U.S. or even the world.”

Creighton suggested online classes might become a permanent offering at Portside, with classes provided until the Summer Arts Camp on July 6.

That is the date the nonprofit has set for a potential physical reopening.

While students currently can’t be together in person at Portside, the transition to online has provided people unique ways to connect that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

“Many people are unable to see loved ones, friends and family members during the quarantine,” Creighton said. “We have seen many beautiful instances in which family and friends stay in touch through our classes and make art with each other.”

New normal: Portside student Isabella Wilcox participates in her daily Zoom lesson for the after-school arts program. PHOTO: REBEKAH WILCOX

One student who is staying with her grandmother in another state participated in the Family Art Night with her parents. Another student from Washington was surprised by all her friends for her birthday in one of the virtual teen artist workshops. And, the after-school students see their friends on a daily basis through online lessons.

Staying connected is part of the sense of normalcy that Creighton hopes Portside is able to provide in a time of unprecedented circumstances.

“The children are always first, it is so important to keep them engaged and for them to be around their friends and teachers,” she said. “This may be one of the few ‘old normals’ they can count on especially during this pandemic.” ••

Virtual Art on the Rocks, an adult painting class, will be held on Friday, May 22, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Age is 18 to join and 21 to drink. Cost is $25 per class or $40 for two classes. Virtual Youth Saturday Art Class will be held on Saturdays, from 10 to 11 a.m., for ages 4 to 10. Cost is $10 per class or $35 for four classes. Virtual Teen Artist Workshop will be held on Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m., for ages 11 to 17. Cost is $10 per class or $35 for four classes. Virtual Family Art Night will be held on Fridays, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. for all ages. Cost is $10 per family. To enroll or for more details, visit www.portsideartscenter.org or email PortsideArtsCenter@gmail.com.

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