At the Heart of Virtual Art

With the help of a grant from ECF, Latitude 53 goes online to explore community connection and the strength of art

When Latitude 53 closed their physical doors to the gallery in March 2020, they immediately adapted to continue to provide programs to the community, including virtual exhibitions, online artist talks, virtual book clubs and artist studio visits.

“One of our first virtual programs was an artist talk with Lauren Crazybull and Faye HeavyShield on March 14, 2020,” says Executive Director Michelle Schultz. “We had less than 48 hours from closing our doors and transitioning staff to work from home to make this happen. Thanks to the incredible support of Lauren, Faye and the Program Team at Latitude, we successfully hosted this virtual event with 55 people in attendance. The talk is now archived on our website and has had hundreds of views.”

With the help of Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) those experiences will be ongoing for art-hungry hearts.

On September 28, ECF donated $9,000 to Latitude 53 as part of the Government of Canada’s $350-million Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt and increase frontline services to vulnerable people during COVID-19.

“The visual arts community is facing unique challenges during the pandemic,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “But there is also opportunity to continue fostering their community, which is why we were happy to be able to support Latitude 53 through the ECSF.”

Because of this, the gallery can continue to offer online programs.

The Latitude 53 team learned very quickly that artist talks translate well virtually, as they are accessible and the online format opens up opportunities to engage with the artist.

“In addition to being able to ask questions verbally, there is also a chat function, which allows those who are uncomfortable speaking in group settings to still ask questions and engage,” Schultz says. “As well, virtual presence allows those across the country (and sometimes in other countries) to tune in, wherever they may be or whatever they are doing at the time.”

In addition, they have been exploring different platforms and methods to present different types of programming. The gallery starts by asking how they want people to connect with a particular program, then builds the virtual program around that. Schultz points out that it has been a period of experimentation and they are really challenging themselves in thinking about what might be possible as they navigate the ever-changing technologies.

“We’ve been talking a lot about the importance of the quality of engagement, rather than just quantity,” adds Schultz. “It’s easy to count numbers, but how else can we measure the impact we have on our community? Fulfilling our mission – to empower artists engaged with contemporary culture – doesn’t always translate to the number of bodies in a space. Thinking about artists, writers and curators who question, inform and inspire sometimes means diving in deep with a dozen community members, instead of presenting a talk to hundreds of people.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.