ARTS/West officially reopened in Athens on Tuesday, Jan. 5, after subsequent closures due to COVID-19 budget issues and social distancing requirements. The community arts center will now be open Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For The Love of Athens photo contest gallery is opening to the public in ARTS/West on Feb. 12 and will be on display until March 26. 30 photos are selected for the photo contest, which can be viewed by appointment or walk-in.
Chelsa Peterson Morahan, a commissioner on the Athens Municipal Arts Commission, has been advocating with the rest of the commission on behalf of the reopening of ARTS/West and the arts in Athens in general.
“From an outsider perspective, getting the community to rally around ARTS/West and advocate for the organization/building has been easy,” Morahan said in an email.
However, she noted that the general difficulties of the pandemic have been a huge factor in the closure of ARTS/West since August 2020. A grant of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) money allowed ARTS/WEST to build, nonetheless, a new wheelchair ramp for their stage and begin a project on installing a fiber optic cable to provide ARTS/West with better internet connection.
“Getting the infrastructure together to provide fiber optics to ARTS/West has been more encompassing than originally thought, but it is coming along,” Morahan said in an email. “This project was from some CARES Acts money and is to provide a wi-fi hot spot as well as streaming capabilities to ARTS/West.”
Once the fiber is installed, ARTS/West plans to use their parking lot as a place for people to come for free high speed internet access. Moving forward, ARTS/West program specialist Emily Beveridge hopes to develop a place where people can make appointments and use the community center as a socially-distanced workspace.
The opening of ARTS/West also means that new events, such as the Valentine’s Prints, Plants and Pots Sale the weekend of Feb. 14, are on the horizon for lovers of plants and ceramics. Other arts classes, such as Crafternoon, are running virtually and in person through March 3.
“The afternoon art class series was (a series of) after school classes for elementary age students, and… we did have to stop that program last March, just because of COVID,” Beveridge said. “We’re hoping that we can launch the afternoon arts program to provide activity during the after-school hours.”
Athens locals and fans of ARTS/West, such as Lacie Rader, an elementary local co-op school teacher, are grateful that ARTS/West is open again to the public. Both Rader and her child attend programs at ARTS/West, and they’ve missed it immensely while it’s been closed.
“I never would have imagined that ARTS/West would have been in my top five quarantine longings, but so it is!” Rader said in an email. “I didn’t realize how much places like the Dairy Barn and ARTS/West had become incorporated into our weekly routine until we couldn’t go anymore.”
Rader loves going to ARTS/West because she knows she can take her daughter there and expose her to projects happening in the local community, trusting that her experience will be kid-friendly. Personally, she feels that going to programs at ARTS/West are relaxing and help her connect with friends without having to contend with late night bar hours and university students.
Either way, the eventual reopening of ARTS/WEST has left Rader optimistic for 2021.
“In 2021, I hope to see a lot more in the way of creative and inspired fun,” Rader said in an email. “Unless we end up with a vaccine-resistant COVID strain, I’m imagining that by summer, Athens’ fun will be well underway, and our community will be stronger in many ways, having learned new ways to make good things happen.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Chelsa Morahan’s name. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.