The Arts Extension Service & Amherst Ballet

The Arts Extension Service at UMASS Amherst (AES) is a national arts service organization working to serve the arts through education, research, publications and consulting. It is the leading provider of Arts Management education and training in the U.S., offering the country’s only online Arts Management bachelor's degree, in addition to three online Arts Management Core, Professional and Leadership certificates and two Certificates in Arts Management for students on campus. AES also offers publications, research services, and training programs for state, regional, and local arts agencies. AES’ Arts Entrepreneurship Initiative, serves students and faculty as well as the region’s many artists and other creative businesses.

As one of few organizations dedicated to supporting the creative community, AES has served as an important clearinghouse of pandemic-related funding resources, employment opportunities, and other information for artists, venues, and arts organizations, which are suffering devastating financial losses due to health and safety restrictions on large indoor gatherings and live performances.

Meanwhile, students past and present are drawing on what they’ve learned in AES programs to continue creating, entertaining, and helping (mostly virtual) audiences make sense of this moment. Take, for example, Madeleine Bonn, an AES student and artistic director of Amherst Ballet.

Bonn was just months into her tenure as artistic director when the pandemic hit. In a recent interview, she credited her AES studies with helping her to remain grounded and for inspiring her creation of the The Social Dis-Dance Project, which commissioned short dance videos from dancers, choreographers, and artists to express their experience of the crisis and the social distancing orders that aimed to curb it.

“I missed dancing and being creative and I also missed connecting with people socially and I realized that a lot of people were going through the same thing,” Bonn said of the project’s genesis in an interview at the start of this video compilation of submissions. “So I really wanted to give mainly my students a way to stay creative and engage with dance and also a way for them to connect with their peers.”

She was surprised when artists from around the globe submitted videos for the project. Bonn’s lighthearted offering, “Pas de Toilet Paper” won a third place prize in the Music/Dance category of Amherst Center Cultural District’s Artist Contest.

In June, Bonn and Amherst Ballet’s board president created the short piece “The Butterfly Effect” which students performed virtually while in-person classes were on hiatus. Now, Amherst Ballet is offering both socially distanced in-person classes (limited to seven students per class, with masks) and virtual access via Zoom.

“Students have been enthusiastic to return to the studio and I feel there is a sense of renewed appreciation for being able to dance in a beautiful space, as well as gratitude for the connection we form with others in doing so,” said Bonn.

Aside from her work at Amherst Ballet, Bonn’s AES coursework this year will include Creative Community Leadership, which teaches students how to use the arts and the creative process as tools for social change, and the skills to do effective creative community collaboration and partnership development. It’s a timely subject as the pandemic and events like the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police have exposed and exacerbated racial and economic injustice, healthcare inequities and other systemic breakdowns.

As AES Director Dee Boyle-Clapp stated in welcoming students back to classes in the fall, each of us has an opportunity “in this moment of extreme change” to make an impact and keep each other “healthy and connected.”

“This is when the arts shine brightest,” Boyle-Clapp wrote, ”As they always have, artists and performers have brought unity and solace to people across the nation and around the world, and while many organizations are physically closed, arts managers have worked to connect the arts to audiences, no matter where they are located. Especially now, while we are physically distant, the arts connect us.”

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published this page in Connecting During COVID-19 Stories 2021-01-20 20:30:34 -0500

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