With schools throughout New York closed for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus, the Gold Coast Arts Center has converted 90 percent of its classes into virtual sessions to provide a creative outlet for students.
When asked what the pandemic’s impact has been on programming, the center’s executive director, Regina Gil, recalled something she said in a pitch to open the center in Great Neck more than 20 years ago.
“If somebody else in the medical world can save your life, we in the arts can make your life better,” Gil said.
In early March, when the coronavirus pandemic began to affect the lives of Long Islanders, Gil said the staff started to come up with various plans and courses of action to prepare for whatever obstacles the virus could cause.
“One of the challenges we faced was adapting the courses to a virtual platform in such a rapid time frame,” said Ellen Schiff, director of the center’s School for the Arts. “We did not want to lose the momentum that each class had going into the pandemic, and I say we’ve accomplished that goal.”
According to statistics provided by Schiff, more than 250 students are enrolled in the center’s online classes. She said that the center has maintained close to 90 percent of currently enrolled registrants for virtual classes.
The classes, Schiff said, include art, robotics, theater, dance and music. The center also offers private lessons in music, dance and chess, all of which have resulted in praise from students and parents, Schiff said.
Private lessons, according to Schiff, have approximately doubled since the pandemic began.
“Parents appreciate us providing their children with a distraction throughout these times,” Schiff said. “We receive emails from parents with suggestions, comments or concerns, and we address them very well.”
Schiff said there are a number of aspects that make the center’s virtual classes special and successful such as small class sizes, immediate feedback on work progress, encouraging social interaction, real-time direction from instructors, and specialized teaching for children from 4 to 16 years old.
One of the programs that has received a lot of attention has been the center’s pandemic art. According to Schiff, students from 10 to 16 years old were asked to create something inspired by a renowned artist or famous painting and incorporate their emotions throughout the pandemic in their piece.
One student, who took a page from Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup art said, “Older people are really affected by the pandemic and food is getting depleted. Andy Warhol cans are in the background and a very sad man is portrayed who needs help.”
If students are not equipped with the proper supplies at home to take part in courses, Gil said, the center makes resources available for students to pick up in a safe manner. While picking up a paint brush or paint may not seem like a challenge, a course such as ceramics presented a new slate of obstacles, Schiff said.
“It was definitely a challenge at first,” she said. “We ended up ordering the clay, plastic bags, and made them available for students to pick up to participate. The clay will be sanitized, and will be put back in the kiln by our instructor.”
Schiff and Gil said instructors have been reaching out to the executive staff, touting their persistence and efforts throughout the pandemic.
“I would like to express my gratitude to [Regina] for being an inspiration to us,” the director of the center’s art gallery, Jude Amsel, wrote in an email. “[Her] reluctance to fail, [her] desire to persist, all the while keeping positive defines GCAC to remain positive during this difficult time.”
“We didn’t realize how meaningful this would all turn out to be,” Gil said. “This pandemic is terrifying for children and parents and I firmly believe the arts is one of the best outlets for people to turn to in these times.”
Schiff said the center is still looking at options for the summer and beyond, prioritizing staff and student safety. Whether students will be present in person, or through a monitor, Schiff said, classes will be offered to the hundreds of Gold Coast patrons.
For more information, or to register for one of the center’s virtual classes, visit https://goldcoastarts.org/.