Touchstone Center for Crafts made a difficult decision to close its doors for the 2020 season due to COVID-19, but the center is reaching a broader audience online via virtual tours with artists from across the country.

“We thought it was safest for all of us to cancel the season, which was difficult for all of us because we were in a pretty good place. We had record signups early, so like everyone else, asked, ‘How can we shift, how can we pivot, and still fulfill our mission?’,’” said the Farmington art center’s marketing manager, Dean Simpson.

The center is hosting an Artist Happy Hour Series at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Teen After School Programs at 3:30 on Thursdays. The tours are hosted through Zoom, and participants must register through the center’s website or social media accounts. On a recent Thursday, Travis Winters, a sculpture artist and Touchstone’s programs manager, gave teens a virtual tour of his studio, quirky sculptures and discussed his journey to becoming an artist.

Last Friday’s program was courtesy of functional potter Mark Arnold, who gave a tour of his studio and discussed his work.

Other past artists included Oklahoma ceramics artist Jamie Bates Slone, ceramics artist Taylor Robenalt of Florida, and blacksmith Anna Koplick of New York. Past tours will be posted on Facebook.

“Science is going to cure this and help us find a solution, but the arts are getting us through it,” Simpson said. “We need that creative time.”

Many people are turning to art and other creative ventures as the pandemic keeps everyone sheltered in their homes, he said. Zoom calls and other virtual meeting spaces provide a personal connection through technology when social connections are sparse.

“It’s kind of surprising how much better a picture on a screen can make you feel about the situation we’re in,” he said.

Simpson said the tours have been reaching a broader audience than its in-person classes could. He said the first happy hour reached maximum capacity, and they upgraded their account. People joined from across the country including Washington state and Florida.

“That’s one of the bright sides of this. We’re totally reaching a new audience of people that may have been curious about us,” he said.

They are planning to continue hosting the virtual tours even after the center is reopened.

Simpson said the center is promoting its teaching artists on its Instagram page, hoping to give them more exposure with their teaching profits suddenly cut off.

“Taking away teaching was pretty rough on them, so we’re trying to support them as much as we can,” he said.

The center is also looking at ways to move some of its other events online, including its retreats and camp. The annual open house originally scheduled for May 30 will be postponed with a tentative date at the end of September. The center issued refunds to everyone who signed up, and those who had registered for canceled events will have a chance to sign up first for the 2021 season.

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