Talk of the Town - April 2020
- Story by Steve Barney
Since last fall, The Arts, Hancock County has been planning the annual Arts Alive Festival. The event was scheduled to take place on March 21-22, 2020 in Old Town Bay St. Louis.
Fifteen businesses across Old Town were freshening up, demonstrators and performers were rehearsing, materials were purchased, and promotion was in full swing. 70 artists from across the region were feverishly putting finishing touches on their work and packing their vans for the spring arts festival circuit.
Everything was in place for Hancock County’s biggest arts and culture festival of the year. Then, just days before the event, it became clear that the festival – and everything else across the globe, for that matter – would not take place as scheduled.
With a bit of juggling and in close communication with community leaders, a plan was developed to reschedule the festival for September 19-20, 2020.
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Creating a year-round online festival
Even with the festival rescheduled, our community of working artists and local shops and galleries have been impacted especially hard by the social distancing that has come with the COVID-19 global crisis. Livelihoods are threatened, as traditional ways of interacting with customers and channels of distribution for artwork have been disrupted. For the time being most of our interactions have shifted online.
Some artists already have established and sophisticated online presence, filled with Etsy shops, YouTube videos, portfolio websites and other social media and ecommerce platforms. Other artists, faced with months of inventory and a cash flow crisis, are now scrambling to get their portfolios online and find new ways to engage with customers and sell their work.
Amid this upheaval, a new opportunity emerged: to create a turnkey online presence for artists. It would bea new digital platform - a robust, dynamic and interactive Arts Alive experience, all online.
Several years ago, The Arts made a significant investment in a state-of-the-art, cloud-based technology platform. This integrated system allows members to edit and maintain profiles including contact info, artist statement, artwork images and other info.
This information is used for event registration and other member services. Using this data to build a new website was possible, but it would require significant software development. After three weeks of round-the-clock effort, The Arts, Hancock County is now ready to launch VirtualArtsAlive.com.
The website allows you to take an online tour of each artist’s work. The home page features a slideshow of artwork; click on a slideshow image to be taken directly to that artist’s page. You can also browse through the artists’ pages from an alphabetic directory. Each artist’s page includes a library of thumbnail artwork images; you can click a thumbnail to see the artwork in high resolution and zoom in to examine details.
For each artist, validated contact info is provided, with direct links to the artist’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Navigation buttons let you view Previous Artist, Next Artist, a Random Artist or return to the Directory.
The real power of the site is behind the scenes. Instead of cutting and pasting static images into a web page, virtualartsalive.com has a live data feed from the hancockarts.org website. Artists can manage their own content, easily and quickly updating their profile and uploading new artwork through the hancockarts.org member site that is automatically displayed on VirtualArtsAlive.com.
The site is designed to work on all mobile and desktop devices. Links will be added to artist demonstration videos, bringing the art-making experience online. In the future customers will be able to seamlessly purchase artwork through the site and have it shipped directly to their homes.
VirtualArtsAlive.com is set up just like the physical festival. Other sections of the site allow you to learn about and link to the Arts Alive performers, tour through Old Town Businesses, and link to Arts Alive sponsors.
To build the site, The Arts partnered with You’re Perfect Studio. You’re Perfect, a digital arts cooperative, provides a variety of services for artists, including artwork photography, digitization and online portfolio development. You’re Perfect’s Katrina Niolet led the software development effort.
"I'm pleased with how quickly we were able to put together this first version of Virtual Arts Alive,” said Katrina. “Creating a fully dynamic website in such a short time frame is a challenge, but we rose to it.
“I look forward to adding new features to future versions of this site. It has a lot of potential to help drive business for local artists.”
The site will be a significant benefit to artists, with value that will only grow as life is normalized in a post-pandemic world.
For this to work, we need your eyeballs and mouse-clicks. The success and sustainability of the site is not possible without an audience. As you shelter-in-place binge watching Tiger King on Netflix, take a minute and meet some new artists and check out a wide variety of amazing art in every medium imaginable. If you see something that catches your eye, click the contact button and let the artist know you saw their work online. It would mean an awful lot to them, especially now.
On Friday, April 10 at 7 pm Central, please join the VirtualArtsAlive.com launch party on Facebook Live. You’ll get a guided tour of the site and meet participating artists. Look for new artist profiles, more online events and new site functionality at www.VirtualArtsAlive.com.