Though COVID-19 has dramatically limited gatherings, events and activities, The Dairy Barn Arts Center refused to let a virtual environment discourage them from carrying on.

Throughout the summer, the Dairy Barn has tried to stay as alive and vibrant as possible by staying true to their mission of promoting artists and helping Athens residents through art. 

Leah Magyary, executive director of the Dairy Barn, recognizes the importance of art and has worked with the rest of the staff to create a summer lineup of accessible events to keep people involved and their minds working. 

“Art is especially important during challenging times, and can play a big part in mental health and community togetherness,” Magyary said in an email.

The first part of the new summer plan was the launch of the Art Camp @ Home program. Art Camp @ Home allowed families to order themed boxes with art projects inside. For example, Magyary’s favorite is the Wizard’s box, which allows kids to turn a book into a furry monster, decorate a quill pen and write their own spells. The program has been so popular that the staff extended it throughout the rest of the summer. 

In addition, they also started the Happy Hour @ Home painting workshop online, led by Lyn Stanton. Stanton leads groups through the process of creating their own acrylic paintings in a live digital setting, and the Dairy Barn helps provide supplies for those who don’t already have paint and canvases at home. People can either sign up for Happy Hour sessions or reserve a private session with a group of friends.

Stanton, education director of the Dairy Barn, believes the virtual classes helped the arts center in troubleshooting online programmings and working out online logistics. As far as in-person classes go, Stanton said the Dairy Barn is planning to offer some on-site programming in the fall but notes everything is subject to change, depending on health department regulations. She simply feels lucky the Dairy Barn could continue to offer classes during a time of chaos. 

“People have always turned to the arts in times of trouble,” Stanton said. “Art making and art appreciation can help us make sense of things and be very therapeutic. Art also gives us common ground and things to appreciate together in our community when there are so many other things dividing us.”

In theory, transitioning to virtual classes seems simple. However, Magyary and Stanton said it took a lot of work that paid off. The transition turned out to be a very positive experience for the staff and the participants. Attendance remained pretty consistent with maybe a slight decrease. However, the audience shifted somewhat, Magyary said. 

“We are certainly learning every step of the way!” Magyary said in an email. “Digital workshops are one of the best ways we have right now to stay connected, and it has been fun to see new friendships form in some of the classes that we have been hosting. It's a nice reminder that we are all in this together, and digital workshops are a great way to have fun with art while connecting with others.”

Now that the Dairy Barn’s gotten the hang of virtual classes for the rest of the summer, the arts center plans to continue the Happy Hour @ Home painting workshops and the Art Camp @ Home boxes as well as host the Art of Our Appalachian Woods exhibition beginning July 24, which highlights artwork made from wood found in Appalachia. The show will be held in the Sauber Gallery at the Dairy Barn, with required reservations to keep capacity limited. 

Additionally, starting Aug. 1, the Dairy Barn will keep its ceramics studio quite busy with kits for people to create clay projects at home and then drop them off at the Dairy Barn for the staff to fire. 

Finally, the Dairy Barn will launch the glaze-from-home program, where it will provide unglazed handmade mugs with a set of glazes so people can decorate their mugs at home and return it to the ceramics studio for firing. 

“This is a great thing to do over Zoom with family and friends, or even as a company thank-you gift for workers who have been working extra over the last few months,” Magyary said in an email. “We will make sure to have them available over the holidays as well!”

Magyary and Stanton know people are doing whatever they can to stay engaged during the pandemic. A lot of people have been trying to learn new skills, and the Dairy Barn staff hopes their art classes will help to inspire that new skill. 

Not only that, but it’s also a great way to cope throughout chaos. The staff knows art can spark joy and act as an outlet for people who have trouble communicating. 

“Right now, we may be lonely, sad, angry, growing, fearful and hopeful,” Magyary said. “Those feelings can be dumped into art making, and that art can be shared with people who are feeling similar things, or it can be private as a simple way of coping with the unique times. To me, it’s all about finding happiness and expression.”

Terry Hogan, board chair for the Dairy Barn, said the Dairy Barn is working hard to explore more options for the future, but for now, they’re taking it one day at a time and celebrating the little victories along the way.

“The staff at the Dairy Barn has been extremely creative in quickly adapting to our new environment,” Hogan said in an email. “It’s been a learning process for all involved, and community members have been very positive about our virtual efforts.”

Magyary and Stanton are also both incredibly proud of the staff.

“I'm very proud of the Dairy Barn staff for their positive energy and creativity throughout all of this,” Magyary said in an email. “They have really come through with some marvelous ideas that I believe will be relevant for a long time moving forward.”