‘You’re not alone’: Online vigil marks COVID-19 anniversary in Sask.

Karla Combres says the night before the first COVID-19 lockdown last year, her husband was in Nipawin for a meeting with 100 people.

“He came home that night and I said, you know what? I don’t think you should go to work tomorrow,” Combres told CBC’s Saskatchewan Weekend. “It was as quick as that. You know, like, from one day to the next, it was unthinkable to gather with that many people.”

Combres is a life cycle celebrant in Saskatoon and one of the organizers of an online vigil being held this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. CST to mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

The vigil is called Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope, and it was organized by Saskatoon’s multi-faith community, but Combres said everyone is welcome.

“For anybody coming to this, no grief is too big or too small,” she said. “This is really for everyone, no matter what your race or your creed or your colour or your age or where you are in the province.”

Her work centres around gathering people and in the early days of the pandemic, she said she wasn’t sure how she was going to be able to continue doing that in a meaningful way.

“Over the course of the past year, I have found ways through researching and participating in gatherings and then also through just really learning and being creative on my own with the people I work with,” she said.

Saskatchewan Weekend14:51Together in Remembrance, Together in Hope

Thursday marks the one year anniversary since the WHO declared a global pandemic. To mark the occasion, a diverse group of people are hosting a free online vigil. Host Shauna Powers speaks with organizers Blake Sittler and Karla Combres. 14:51

Gatherings are smaller and people join via livestream but it is still possible to connect, she said, and she hopes people will find that with the vigil as well.

Combres had the idea for a vigil but she said it was Blake Sittler who got the ball rolling initially to mark the anniversary. 

Sittler is the executive director of Saskatoon’s Roman Catholic chaplaincy and another organizer of the vigil.

He and his wife were celebrating their 25th anniversary in New York before the pandemic hit, arriving home only a few days before the first case was found there.

“We went back to work for a day or two and on Friday, I grabbed my laptop and I said, you know, I’m going to take this laptop home in case I need to stay home for a few days and a few days turned into a full year working in my basement,” he said.

A person in a face mask walks through an almost empty Times Square in New York City as the COVID-19 outbreak pandemic continues. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Sittler said the goal of the event was to represent as many of the different communities in the province as possible, echoing the provincial motto, “From many peoples strength.”

“We knew we wanted to mark the day because humans do try to make meaning of their lives through ritual,” Sittler said. 

He said the vigil is not a religious event but instead an opportunity to bring people together so they feel less alone.

“You’re not alone in your mourning, you know, you’re not alone in the jobs you lost, your fear, the loneliness, the isolation.… And at the same time, now that the vaccines are coming out, we also wanted to let them know that they aren’t alone in their hope.”

Sittler said he’ll be thinking of people in special care and long-term care homes who have been isolated throughout the pandemic, as well as the workers in those facilities.

“These are folks who have built up this province and have spent their life serving their community and their kids,” he said. “It’s like being in isolation in a prison. And some of them even asked that question is like, what did we do wrong that this is happening?”

Sittler said he wanted to put an event together where people could gather and say, ‘I’m not crazy for being sad and I’m not crazy for being hopeful.’ (Supplied by Shirley Larkin/White Coat Black Art)

The event will have greetings from representatives from different traditions. A front-line worker will speak about their experience, and there will also be poetry and music. The event also invites everyone to bring a candle to light.

“People know what it means to light a candle in the window, you know, for the weary traveler to just find their way through the darkness,” Sittler said. “And that’s what this is, to light a candle, to give people hope to say that we’re in this together.”

The event is free but you need to register at covidvigil.ca. You can join on Zoom, and it will also be livestreamed to YouTube.

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Arts & Science Center generates buzz in city

These are just a few of the positive phrases Google reviewers used when describing their experience at the Arts & Science Center.

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the ASC is a cultural junction where the arts and sciences collide in a spectacular way to engage, educate and entertain.

The ASC is the hub for fine arts, performing arts, arts and science classes, and hands-on children’s science exhibits for the 10-county area of southeastern Arkansas. Its mission is to provide opportunities for the practice, teaching, performance, enjoyment and understanding of the arts and sciences.

How does the ASC fulfill this mission? One look at its rich and varied schedule will give you your first clue. ASC presents programming exhibits, performances, classes and local partnerships.

Education programming occurs on and off site and area schools are encouraged to visit for free exhibition tours and hands-on activities. Classes are offered for children, youth and adults with scholarships available. Gallery admission, hands-on programming and school field trips are all free — thanks to sponsors, successful grant writing and the generosity of the local community.

How did the ASC come to be? The story starts on March 4, 1968, when two local community arts groups merged by ordinance of the Pine Bluff City Council and assumed the name of Civic Center Arts Museum. Soon afterward, the center grew to include performing arts, science exhibits and educational programming, broadening its reach in southeast Arkansas.

In 1969, Pine Bluff City Council changed the name to Southeast Arkansas Arts & Science Center. In 1971, the center became a commission of the City of Pine Bluff, and in 1987, the center’s name was changed to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.

From 1968 to 1986, the center operated out of the Pine Bluff Civic Center with an art gallery, a science education junior gallery, a permanent collection gallery, a theater and administrative offices.

A satellite building — a former fire station — designated for education classes was loaned to the center by the city. In 1986, fire heavily damaged the Civic Center facility. Although the theater was eventually restored, the galleries, offices and collections were moved to a historic home on Martin Street.

The old fire station, known as the Little Firehouse Studio, continued as a classroom and student gallery. Due to this geographic separation, the need arose to have a facility that would house all programs under one roof.

In anticipation of a building project, the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas Endowment Fund Inc. was established in 1986. In 1994, following a fundraising campaign, the current facility was built at 701 Main St. in downtown Pine Bluff.

The 22,000-square-foot facility was built to AAM accreditation standards. The building includes four galleries, a theater, classroom space, administrative offices, a vault, and adequate preparatory and conservation space for the center’s programming efforts.

The center offers several children’s science exhibits on a rotating basis. Exhibits have included Illusion Confusion, Good Vibrations and Grossology. Year-round science classes are also available. As part of its commitment to providing quality children’s science exhibits, the center is a member of a seven-museum consortium in Arkansas, the Arkansas Discovery Network.

Besides exhibiting well-known local, state, regional, national, and international artists, the center offers year-round art classes in sculpture, mixed media and more. Exhibits have included the work of Frederic Remington and Norman Rockwell, as well as a collection of art and artifacts from western Africa ranging from the fifth century to the late 20th century.

The center, as part of its mission, also regularly exhibits works from artists throughout Arkansas and the Delta region. The center’s permanent collection addresses a regional constituency and places emphasis on collecting works by African-American artists, Arkansas artists and artists living and working in the South.

The center hosts regular music events that showcase the music of Arkansas musicians and feature the Delta sounds of jazz, blues, soul, rock and country. The center also hosts community theater productions of nationally famous works and conducts theater classes and camps for adults and children.

In 2018, the Windgate Foundation awarded ASC a $2.5 million grant to expand ASC’s footprint and transform historic commercial space on Main Street into a vibrant community arts and event space.

The ARTSpace on Main, located at 623 S. Main St., with a little more than 11,000 square feet, features a community gallery for area artists to show and sell work; flexible workshop space for art classes, yoga classes, dance and culinary workshops, a tinkering makerspace, a wood shop, scene and costume shop, a small pottery studio and an outside “ART Yard” for large-scale projects and events.

The ARTSpace on Main includes some of the original features of the 1920s commercial building, including an advertising mural inside for O.K. Dairy Creamery.

The ARTworks on Main, located between The ARTSpace and ASC’s main building, includes five apartments for resident artists with accompanying studios that can be used by the residents or rented to local artists.

The jewel of The ARTworks is a 70-seat black box theater for small, community-oriented productions. It will be named in honor of longtime ASC supporter and board member Adam B. Robinson, Jr.

This article is among features at ExplorePineBluff.com, a program of the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission. Sources: ASC701.org, EncyclopediaofArkansas.net.

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