Mar 30, 2020

The Big Shift: adjusting best practices in the face of COVID-19

Immersion cohort

The Big Shift: How Artspace Immersion is adjusting best practices to offer support in the face of COVID-19

Artists, artisans, makers, and creators make our communities stronger. During recovery efforts, they are also the ones that help communities heal. However, in times of crisis, they are one of the hardest-hit sectors. According to “Artist and Other Cultural Workers: A Statistical Report,” (National Endowment for the Arts, 2019) more than 5 million people were employed in arts and cultural industries. And, of that 5 million, 30% of workers holding second jobs as artists described their primary work occupation in educational and health services industries; 15% describe their primary jobs as in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Each of these industries were immediately affected by COVID-19.

Artists need to be supported now, so they can help us all reimagine, process, and regroup as a community later. For Artspace, that means finding new ways to support the resident artists that live and work in our 54 buildings as well as the organizations we serve through Artspace Immersion.  

Artspace Immersion is a technical assistance and coaching program led by the Consulting department that helps arts organizations plan for new space. Since launching in 2015, it has served 40 organizations in Detroit, Memphis, and the Twin Cities. The program is currently operating with a second cohort in Detroit. The original program design included monthly in-person meetings, which had the Consulting team traveling to Michigan and Tennessee to convene, present, and facilitate group work. Now our question, like many other arts organizations, is how to maintain the quality of our programming and connection to our external communities. Beyond that, we are asking ourselves how to learn and grow during this time wherein nothing is going according to plan.

Though Artspace has 40 years of experience in space in the physical world, space in the virtual world feels like a new universe. We’ve learned that going virtual is more than upgrading your video conferencing account (though that was one of our first steps!). It’s been about ensuring that Immersion participants can connect online, without assuming access or fluency in virtual platforms. It has been about managing new workflow patterns and recognizing that everyone is experiencing the pandemic and isolation in different ways. We’re also thinking about how to utilize the time that would have been spent in transit and how to maintain human connection through individual calls and check-ins. As we see it, moving from physical to virtual space is not a simple migration. The program inevitably changes. Our goal is to make those changes smoothly, equitably, and collaboratively, - finding discoveries along the way.

To do so, we are tailoring both the delivery and content of the Immersion program. Moving workshops and one-on-one sessions online were the immediate fix. Now we’re upping our technology game to facilitate virtual panels and break-out sessions. We’re also being guided by our cohorts, adjusting the content of the program to respond to the changing needs of the organizations and the timelines of their projects. We’re adding virtual office hours, collaborative resource lists, social media networks, and online support sessions. We’re scouring the web for resources, watching for inspiring ideas, asking for help, and offering platforms for people to help each other.

Our team has embraced the “jagged opportunity approach” to problem-solving. In other words, defining the problem, jumping into formulating solutions, returning to explore the problem, and then jumping back into reformulating solutions. At this moment, this seems more applicable than a more linear, top-to-bottom method. We’re using this jagged approach – mixed in with a touch of optimism, a daily dose of humor, a balance of survival and sustainability, and a heap of encouragement – to make our own transitions, and to support others that are navigating the same waters. 

With uncertainty comes the opportunity to innovate and address challenges, both chronic and acute, with fresh perspectives. Necessity is the mother of invention. We’ll get through this. Now it’s time to bring people and ideas together, even if it’s at a distance. 

Stay tuned for future updates.  We welcome your thoughts, too.  Please email us at 


Photo caption: (Above) Artspace Immersion Memphis Cohort and Members of Artstpace Staff (2019)