The Art Getting Us Through Social Distancing

At this time, many of us are turning to art to process, self-assess, escape. To vent and smile and laugh. For comfort, activism, connection, education, and myriad other reasons. We’re wondering, during this Stay Home—Work Safe Order:

What art is getting you through this time of social distancing?

The Austin ISD CLI and MINDPOP teams have been asking each other this question to find useful coping mechanisms, reminders of art we’d lost touch with, or refreshing, new suggestions. The answers seem to change weekly or daily. We’d love to hear from you. We are grateful to the artists who are helping us push through to better days. In case you’re also seeking a suggestion, a reminder, or looking for inspiration, here’s what some of us have been gravitating to lately:


Brent Hasty:

Photograph taken of Signaling XVI, 2019, by Nate Lewis

My niece graduated from college last fall and started her first “real” job in January. She loves her job. She’s a nurse… in a hospital. She’s amazing and brave and caring and really stepping up when her community needs her. This tender, delicate and thoughtful hand-sculpted inkjet print with ink and graphite called Signaling XVI, 2019 by Nate Lewis, makes me think a lot about her and the work she’s doing. The artist worked as a critical-care nurse, too. The work has that kind of sensitivity.  I hope you can see the way he’s treated the face and hair in this reproduction. The artist has cut into the image to pull the photo image off the paper-backing underneath, a technique called frottage or picotage. He makes me think about what lays underneath the skin: the biology, virology, immunology… all the ology’s. He also makes me think about what lives underneath our feelings and he makes me grateful for all the caregivers in the world… particularly my niece.

Here’s a little more about Nate:

Nate Lewis (b. 1985, Beaver Falls, PA) explores history through patterns, textures, and rhythm, creating meditations of celebration and lamentations. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from VCU, and practiced critical-care nursing in DC-area hospitals for nine years. Lewis’ first artistic pursuit was playing the violin in 2008, followed by drawing in 2010. Since 2017 he has lived and worked in New York City. Lewis’ work has been exhibited at the California African American Museum; The Studio Museum in Harlem; The Yale Center for British Art; 21c Museum Hotels; Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts; and with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services. Past residencies include Pioneer Works and Dieu Donne. Lewis’ work is in the public collections of the The Studio Museum in Harlem, Baltimore Museum of Art, Grinnell College Museum of Art, The Blanton Museum, and 21c Museum Hotels.


Jackson Knowles:

I’m listening to a lot of John Prine this week, who I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But most of my art consumption is driven by my kids—ages 9 and 3. We’re reading Gregor the Overlander together, and making lots of stuff with popsicle sticks and sidewalk chalk. At night after the little one goes to sleep, we stay up too late watching old Parks and Recreation episodes.


Alicia Melendez:

Currently there are two things I do that are helping me get through this time. It has gotten to a point where I almost need to do these things to relieve stress and anxiety. They both are very calming and relaxing.

1. Variations (solo or with the family and dog) of a long car ride on the hilly, winding country roads. No destination in mind with the windows down blasting ANY Jack Johnson song but my favorite song, the one that gets stuck in my head for days at a time, the one that makes me bust out in dance randomly is “Bubble Toes.” “La da da da da da….” I love listening to him play the guitar and his songs always give me a relaxed feeling of hanging on the beach somewhere with a cold drink. Love me some Jack Johnson!

2. Acrylic Painting. I am no artist by far, however, I still bust out my paints, brushes and canvas and get at it. It takes me a while to get going but once I start, I sometimes feel like I get into a meditative state. In those moments, I can’t hear anything that is going on around me or in my mind and therefore, I have no worries.


Lydia Nelson:

I’ve been making Spotify playlists and sometimes playing along with Graham Nash on the piano. The Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall (which also has a wonderful app) is free for 30 days and includes a giant catalogue of orchestra performances. Beyond music, this week these things have been helping:

The Criterion Channel: Ever since I watched Bicycle Thieves (one of the greatest films of all time) in undergrad, I’ve been a big proponent of the Criterion Collection’s work and films with their stamp. One year ago, they launched a streaming service that combines excellent curation and preservation of internationally acclaimed films with their mission to educate all of us about filmmaking and culture. Many of these films are available to stream online via the Austin Public Library’s Kanopy feature. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Library has temporarily increased Kanopy play credits to 5 per month.

Bon Appetit YouTube Channel: I love what the digital media & production team at BA have created with their funny and almost-always accessible cooking videos featuring the personable cooks & editors in the BA Test Kitchen (or now, in their home kitchens). Just like a big budget TV series, our household has our favorites and not-so-favorites, but we won’t name names 🙂 I’ve even got my mom hooked on it.

Knowing Cop Rock was a thing: Did you know in 1990, the brains behind Hill Street Blues decided to create a dramatic crime procedural that was also a musical? It’s Smash meets Law & Order. If this sounds like a terrible, bizarre idea to you, almost everyone in 1990 agreed. Fortunately, YouTube has some clips. Here’s “Let’s Be Careful Out There.” The police chief begins a morning briefing that à la Transformers-Robots-in-Disguise changes into a singing, electric-organ-showcasing extravaganza. Several actors seem as befuddled as the rest of us.


Sloan McLain:

DJ Mel’s Facebook Live (every) Saturday Night Living Room Dance Party 6 – 10pm!

Books: Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.


Christy Savage:

Being surrounded by my entire family each night at the dinner table brings me such joy! Lively conversation and “Remember when”s. While I know my older two children would rather be with friends on their respective campuses, we find much to laugh over and be thankful for. It is in the quiet that my family speaks to me—the footsteps on the stairs, the opening music to The Office, the refrigerator door opening and closing. This makes me appreciate such slow moving evenings.

A portrait of a figure with three faces on one head.
Fernando Munoz painting

As for art, I feel like I am the three-headed person in this painting as there is so much to do and so many to think of that I feel like my head is spinning.  It is a painting from a local artist, Fernando Munoz, who is as warm as the colors in his work.

I am reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. This quote stuck with me as we live through these strange times: “I catch sight of my face in the mirror and am shocked to see that I am smiling. You can’t help smiling, in such beautiful weather.” Everything around us has “an air of curious familiarity, of striking resemblance to something one remembers as normal and pleasant in the past.” But of course we have undergone a change that “has occurred quietly and largely out of easy view.”


We are compiling a list of online, international arts experiences and resources. This spreadsheet is organized via tabs at the bottom of the screen. You can view ongoing experiences, experiences with specific dates, and always-online resources. We will continue to update this list for as long as Austin ISD campuses are closed. We hope you and your loved ones are well and safe.

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