Despite the pandemic, MJMAG continues its link with the community, a pioneer in raising awareness through the artistic spirit and the innovative use of technology.
“It’s been a challenge over the past year and a half,” says Curator / Director Jennifer McRorie. “We had to really reinvent the way we engage with the community and our audience with a lot of virtual programming. But we were able to broaden our reach. Our most recent artist talk with Belinda Harrow drew participants from as far away as New Zealand.
MJMAG has been able to secure emergency funding from federal and provincial sources to help them get through the pandemic, but McRorie says their operating budget is very slim and will continue to be affected next year. The loss they felt most was their Canada Day Art park Festival. Welcoming around 80 sellers, artisans and craftsmen, with nearly 5,000 people present each year, MJMAG has not been able to organize Park Art for two years.
“It was a challenge,” McRorie notes, “because it was a major source of donations for us. We also missed the community interaction of this event, and it was a great way to celebrate Canada Day while supporting local artists and artisans.
MJMAG doubles as a busy arts education center. Education Coordinator Christy Schweiger has worked at MJMAG for 18 years and coordinates their art and education programs. “The disruption really upset me,” she says. “Personally, I interacted with three to four thousand children a year as part of our programs here, but after the pandemic started, we had to stop all programs in person.”
It didn’t take long for staff to start thinking about ways to connect with the community online and by phone. “We are now working a lot with Center for the elderly without walls“Schweiger says,” which is a program where we send out art kits and then have phone calls with groups of older people who have been isolated and locked in, and we go through the kits together and make art. “They are constantly innovating new ideas for the program, which strives for inclusiveness for those who may not have the technology or the Internet connection to participate online.
A new walk-in watercolor class began on October 15, with social distancing and two-dose proof of vaccination required to protect potentially vulnerable participants. Local schools participate in interactive virtual classes with a wide variety of different projects, including take-out or mail-out art kits. A program they called CREATEabilities is specially designed for people with special needs and learning differences.
“Our goal over the past year and a half has been to reach out to the community,” said McRorie. “We have really bonded with people who are trying to cope with isolation, and once we’re done [Covid-19], we will always continue to provide virtual assistance.
MJMAG, now in its 55th year, won the Organizational Leadership Award in May of Saskatchewan Arts, who noted that the gallery has become “an integral part of the artistic landscape of Saskatchewan and Canada”, and that “[t]their commissioned exhibitions and installations are world class and have been shown as far away as Sydney, Australia and Tokyo, Japan.