A still from the yarn-dyeing demonstration livestreamed on by West Guilford's Indigodragonfly.

Connecting with community during a time of social distancing

By Jenn Watt

Kim McBrien Evans owner of West Guilford-based yarn studio Indigodragonfly said her company was gearing up for its busiest show season ever when the coronavirus hit Canada and all of her plans were upended.

“We are in an unprecedented situation and have to adapt quickly to a changing world” McBrien Evans told the Echo last week. Indigodragonfly was to attend six shows from March to July and the cancellations “have been catastrophic.” She said sales are down from what they should be at this time of year and although there is more traffic online that doesn’t mean more people buying product.

Her company is putting more energy into its online operations offering discounts to shoppers and enhancing their social media presence last week hosting a live yarn dyeing demonstration on Instagram.

“Our friend designer Anne Blayney offered one of her patterns for free as a comfort to people hit hard by COVID-19. Since the pattern was designed in our yarn we decided to dye kits for it and I thought it could be fun to do a live dyeing demo answer questions and generally just have a fun time showing what we do” McBrien Evans said.

The result was an hour-long video with Ron Evans dyeing McBrien Evans answering questions and Victoria Bingham recording and moderating the chat.

Other area businesses and organizations are also finding ways to use the internet to connect to their community while people are practicing social distancing and self-isolation to limit the spread of COVID-19.

At the Haliburton Highlands Museum director Kate Butler is planning virtual tours and video content for those looking for a fix of history while the physical space is closed.

Staff had been preparing programming for March Break when the Municipality of Dysart et al’s emergency control group made the decision to close the museum along with the arena and West Guilford and Harcourt community centres.

Typically an outdoor maple syrup demonstration is included in the museum’s programming and “wouldn’t you know it we’ve had the best run of sap this year that we’ve had in years” Butler said.

Aside from the syrup the museum also offers family activities and Butler has been putting instructions up on social media for those who still want to make crafts at home.

“We’re sharing both photos and artifacts from the collection daily to help people enjoy the museum from home” she said. “We’re also sharing activities online for families at home looking for things to do. The goal is for them to require only things you’re already likely to have around the house.”

From a historical perspective Butler said the global COVID-19 pandemic “is different than anything we’ve seen before in history because the spread of information around the globe is faster than it’s ever been before. Connectivity makes a huge difference because it means that we can practice physical distancing while still staying in touch in a way that would astonish previous generations.”

She said she thinks this time will be remembered as one “when people used innovative and creative ways to work together and look after each other even when apart.”

Organizers of the U-Links Celebration of Research which was to take place at the end of the month decided they would highlight at least one student project a week on social media since the event has been cancelled.

The Celebration of Research is a chance for students from Fleming College and Trent University to present the work they did in the community. “There are usually over 20 student poster presentations as well as verbal presentations by students from a couple of select projects” Amanda Duncombe-Lee program coordinator with U-Links said.

Students network at the event with host organizations and potential employers. “For example we had several projects that focused on waste diversion and reduction and several projects focused on biodiversity; it would have been great to get people from all of these host organizations in the room together” she said.

This was to have been the 30th anniversary of the event and the plan was to recognize the Ontario Trillium Foundation Seed grant awarded to the Trent Centre for Community-Based Education in collaboration with U-Links for the benthic biomonitoring project.

Currently the presentation QEII Moose Species Summary by Jazlyn Burrell and Sarah Wray is available to view on U-Links’ Instagram account.

“I think that one of the benefits of having project highlights online is that anyone can see them the summaries are written using accessible language and anyone who is interested in more information can contact us or read the entire report in our database” Duncombe-Lee said.

To connect the public to its latest exhibition the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre is posting images from Water to its Facebook page. The Haliburton gallery closed on March 16 following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the country said Laurie Jones curator. A notice was sent out via email within a day of the closure.

“Prior to March 16 we had already cancelled our in-person gathering ie. drum circles and I had started learning about virtual options for small meetings ie. board of directors” she said.

Water which is the theme of the annual members’ show features 107 pieces which will be posted over time on Facebook.

Jones said she thinks the online audience will appreciate the talent of area artists and their interpretation of the theme of water.

The experience may offer a chance to learn more about how to present art in the virtual realm.

“I have done a lot of learning the past few days about ways to create small virtual exhibitions affordably” Jones said. “The ‘Water’ [Facebook] album is just the start of something we may well be able to do more professionally in the future. That would take time dedication and creativity all of which we have!”

Kim McBrien Evans said her advice to businesses or institutions looking to embrace the online world more enthusiastically during the pandemic is to tune in to what customers need and respond to that. “For us we recognize that at times like these people turn to activities that bring them comfort. Crafts like knitting and crochet do that” she said.

For example after a show in Seattle was cancelled a marketplace with online classes was set up called the Virtual Knitting Extravaganza. “This meant that anyone who lost work and income because of the cancellation had an opportunity to make up some of that income” McBrien Evans said. She is part of an organizing committee putting together something similar for the Knit City Montréal event which has been postponed.

A series of livestream sessions is also in the works for Indigodragonfly including more demonstrations “knit and chat” and classes. Their next livestream dye session is March 26 at 2 p.m. They are planning to keep a schedule of classes on Tuesdays demonstrations on Thursdays until further notice.