the Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy

Pat Beréskin – local artist, educator, and owner of the Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy in Bettendorf – discusses her venue's operations during this time of social distancing. We spoke on Monday, March 23.

Classes for Young Children

In the last 48 hours, because our classes are all going online, I've learned the Google Classroom program, and I've been making videos, and taking my lesson plans and converting them into photography-example sheets … What we're hoping to do is to be able to walk students through their art project using PowerPoint or live demonstrations or video demonstrations – but we also want to stay live while they're working, so I can answer questions.

Parents have been stopping by [the studio] to pick up lesson plans and materials, and we've been scheduling it so no one has to encounter somebody else. And we've had the gallery and the classrooms professionally sanitized. I made up, I think, 36 individual watercolor containers for the kids to take home, and they can check out brushes. Hopefully, I'll get those back. (Laughs.)

The younger kids are working with water-based oils right now, because we don't know how parents or pets or loved ones that are in the house with them will respond to traditional oils. But we do know that the traditional water-based oils are very safe. So we're providing brushes and canvases and such for the kids, and then we'll eventually have our presentation – they're finishing up a four-week project of a realism still-life that I think is 24 by 30. I think that's right. I don't want students reading this to say, “Mrs. B., you said it was 24 by 30 but it's really … !” (Laughs.)

But I think some of these opportunities that we're creating can really help a parent. Children love to be online. You see them in the restaurants – parents taking their cell phones and handing them to an 18-month-old and they're engaged. So what we're asking now, with their art, is to engage with us online and do their work. And we're getting there. We're gonna get through this.

Classes for Older Kids and Adults

Dave Anderson is currently teaching his oil-painting classes with his students meeting online, and he's doing very well with those. Brad Bisbey has talked about doing that, too, so that's something we're going to help him set up. We have our STEAM-lab classes – science, technology, engineering, art, and math – with Sam McCullum, who's a graduate student himself finishing his master's degree and then beginning his doctorate. His classes will be online as well.

I've also been doing tangling on Facebook live every day, which has been really fun. A few of my students this year had to move – their parents transferred with different companies – and to my delight, two of those students said, “Mrs. B., even though we've moved, can we sign on for regular classes?” And I said absolutely. They'll be signing back on this week. So for those parents who are worried about “Well, what is it that I can do with my kids while they're at home?”, get a hold of us and we'll see if we can help.

Not all of the classes we had scheduled are online, but if we stay closed into May or whatever, they'll have to. Our summer camp is bread and butter for the gallery, so we hope we're not gonna have to cancel that as well. It's not much fun to have camp in your kitchen. (Laughs.)

Online Exhibition and Demonstrations

Our next opening on April 3 [for Tom Christopher's Reflections of the Iowa Landscape] will be the first time we've ever done an online opening. We're going to host a reception on our Web site previewing all of Tom Christopher's artwork, and then he's going to do a live demonstration – so that's a real bonus.

Some of our other artists we've been in contact with will be doing those, as well. I know Dave Anderson is creating some videos; Brad Bisbey is also. I haven't talked to everybody else in person yet because it's brand-new, but we're doing it. And I'll be live every day. I may do tanglings at a certain time, and if I can get caught up on this video and filming for my classes, then I will also be doing some other demonstrations.

How to Support the Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy … and Each Other

People can shop! (Laughs.) We added an online store to our Web site months and months ago. So hopefully people can see things that are pretty every day and go online, and we'll do whatever we need to do for those who are trying to get gifts out – we can still ship, and you can schedule opportunities if you want to buy something and take it home with you. And we can all help each other by spreading the word on openings and such.

We'll have to get creative. With plays, for instance, my husband and I can cozy up on the couch and pour a glass of wine or a hot coffee or whatever, and if people decide that they want to have a play and we pay online for a private viewing, you know what? I'm there. I'll pay. And the orchestra. My niece works for a large orchestra company, and they had something where each of the musicians played their part in isolation and then it was put together [online].

We'll always have the online gallery, and I'll continue to teach, as will our other teachers – we'll make those arrangements. But we want to continue to be a presence in this community. And as far as businesses like mine now, without the support of our parents going online, and having our online sales, the gallery could be gone.

Half of my family is in Italy. I have part of them in Milan, and the other part are in the Naples region near a town called Benevento. It's up in the mountains, and they have been isolated for over three weeks now. And the thing is: Our country isn't listening. When they say lock down, they mean close the doors. And for me, that's what we've done. We've closed the doors, we're isolating ourselves, we're keeping safe distances. But it's humbling when I drive home and see kids out congregating together, and see people visiting.

My cousin, who's a teacher herself, a middle-school teacher, she's had to watch the procession of the army take bodies through the streets because there are no more crematoriums that can process them. So you know, it's real. We can't be stupid. We don't have to be morose, but we don't have to be stupid. We have to be careful and do what we're supposed to do.

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