The Art of Quarantine


Madeline Phuong, Writer


Creativity blooms under the most unlikely of circumstances. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine allowed for a creative utopia to blossom. A combination of restlessness and a growing need to express oneself made artists of all ages and backgrounds quickly adapt to a world of isolation and social distancing. Those in isolation found unconventional ways to make and share their art during Governor Holcomb’s stay-at-home order from late March, to early May and onwards.


Over 40 years ago, 19 Fort Wayne Art School alumni established the Fort Wayne Artists Guild, which has now grown to include more than 130 members. The Guild provides its members with 13 Fort Wayne locations to publicly display and sell artwork, the opportunity to participate in exclusive Annual Members’ Shows and a welcoming setting to share artistic passions. 

For the Guild, quarantine was a time to work on and expand artistic skills in isolation and in socially-distanced groups. As a non-profit organization, it aims to promote communal interest in and knowledge of the fine arts, a necessary outlet in times of crisis. 

One way the Guild does this is through events such as Plein Air or “Open Air” Pop Ups, in which artists paint on location and passersby choose their favorites in a penny vote. Last month, the YLNI Farmers Market on Barr Street hosted a Fort Wayne Artists Guild Plein Air Pop Up, allowing artists to show off the new skills which blossomed in quarantine. 

Guild members who paint en plein air attended the Barr Street event, setting up at 9 a.m. Masked farmers and market attendees wandered along Barr Street and appreciated the art which had spontaneously captured the market’s earlier morning hours. 

Changes to Guild events like the Plein Air Pop Ups include proper social distancing, mask wearing and recommendations to bring hand sanitizer and disposable gloves. While the Pop Ups allowed for artists to display their work and artistic process, it was not the only method artists used to express themselves. During quarantine, the Guild hosted online shows and galleries with digital entries for the first time.

“We have done a lot more digitally than we ever have,” Guild President John Kelty said. “There are no longer a lot of (plein air) events, shows or competitions. (Most) have gone digital or are postponed until next year. It’s a whole new world.”

To adjust to this new world, Kelty opened a new studio and advertised on social media, allowing him to meet with people one-on-one instead of waiting for them to see his work in a gallery. He also painted more landscapes to avoid places where people usually gather.

Kelty joined the Guild in 2008 in search of fellowship and mentorship, and it worked out well for him. He started out as one of the quietest attending members at Guild meetings, and is currently the Guild President. Kelty devotes himself to giving back to the Guild by mentoring and helping out other Guild members.

“I would not be the artist I am today without the Fort Wayne Artists Guild, without the friendships and family that I’ve gotten through (the Guild),” Kelty said. “Art is a journey and it’s hard to make any journey by yourself. It helps to have somebody to show you which way to go and give you some advice.”

For Avon Waters, who is the President of the Indiana Plein Air Painters Association (IPAPA) and a member of the Guild, the time for self-reflection that quarantine provided was invaluable. 

“(The pandemic) made me post things online, and I’ve actually had more sales online (than in-person). I’ve worked more in the studio because I’m not stressed about going out. I’ve found that it’s okay to be alone,” Waters said. “(Quarantine) has also made me become more focused on my own style rather than other artists’ styles.” 

Like Kelty, Waters joined IPAPA and the Guild to meet other artists within a supportive community. Not only have these organizations pushed Kelty and Waters to be better artists, but IPAPA and the Guild have also allowed them to be surrounded by others who excel in and enjoy the process of creating.

While the Fort Wayne Artists Guild made adjustments to how they gathered in person and shared their art, annual community art events like the Chalk Walk, hosted by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art (FWMoA), found other ways to adapt.

With a transition from in-person to virtual, the FWMoA’s Virtual Chalk Walk at Home gave everyone a chance to be an artist and create with the simple materials of chalk and pavement for the 20th consecutive year. In partnership with Arts United, the #ArtStartsHere Campaign and Ferguson Advertising, the FWMoA held the Chalk Walk from July 25 to Aug. 2, with treat bags and drawing supplies provided to the first 500 registrants. 

The Virtual Chalk Walk was an “opportunity for people throughout the community to express themselves, whether they’re a fantastically professional artist, or whether it’s just a kid drawing a picture of their house,” FWMoA Director Charles Shepard said in an interview with WBOI.

According to FWMoA Events Coordinator Emily Uphoff, the decision to transition the Chalk Walk to a virtual platform was a simple one. 

“(The FWMoA’s) Chalk Walk is a community event that is beloved by so many. There have been artists that have participated every year and we knew it was something that we had to figure out a way to do,” Uphoff said in an interview.

After creating a chalk work, the more than 350 participants entered their piece into an Award Category by uploading to an online public gallery. Unlike the traditional Chalk Walk, the virtual platform allowed people to participate from outside the Fort Wayne area. The 2020 Award Categories included Trompe L’oeil (or “fool the eye”), 100th Anniversary of Women’s Vote, People’s Choice and Favorite Art Genre. 

Instead of taking a “stroll” through the Chalk Walk, onlookers this year could take a virtual “scroll” to view all the submissions and vote for People’s Choice. This year, category winners included Joel Faurote for the Trompe L’oeil category (IMAGE LOCATION), Danielle Barger-Muncie for the People’s Choice category (IMAGE LOCATION) and Megan Hevel for the Favorite Art Genre category (IMAGE LOCATION).

“We received so many positive comments from people that we are planning on a virtual component in some capacity for future years,” Uphoff said, looking back on the event.