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‘Finding our new normal’: With coronavirus safety protocols in place, Howard County Art Center reopens

Still being completed, these are some of the dolls Diana Marta gathered for her installation titled "A New Playing Field" for the resident artists exhibit at Howard County Art Center.
Still being completed, these are some of the dolls Diana Marta gathered for her installation titled "A New Playing Field" for the resident artists exhibit at Howard County Art Center. (Diana Marta / HANDOUT)

The Howard County Center for the Arts reopened July 7, welcoming back visitors to its galleries and permitting resident artists to offer small classes again. The center has been closed since March due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

To prepare for its reopening, the building received a deep cleaning, and plexiglass barriers around desks and signage encouraging social distancing and hand-washing were installed. Limited restrooms are open, water fountains are turned off and the center will no longer sell and snacks or beverages, according to Mary Baxter, deputy director of the Howard County Arts Council.

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“It will not look like before,” Baxter said. “We’re finding our new normal. We’re being cautious. We’re going really slow and making really solid steps.”

A soft opening was held in June to allow the artists featured in the gallery’s March exhibit by the Howard County Public School System a chance to finally view it.

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“It was like a time capsule to walk by and see this exhibit that was supposed to be open,” Baxter said. “The staff really worked hard to get the gallery open. It was a really good feeling to get that open so families got to see their kids’ artwork on display in a beautiful exhibit.”

The resident artists exhibit is scheduled to open Tuesday. Though the building will be open for the public to see the exhibit in person, an online opening reception is planned for July 31 so everyone can attend.

The council’s Celebration of the Arts, its largest fundraiser which features the presentation of the Howie Awards and the Rising Stars competition, has also been moved to an online platform after first being rescheduled from its original date in March to one in July.

“We realized that was not going to be possible,” said Pam Perna, community and web relations director for the arts council, of the traditional celebration. “We will pre-record the Rising Star performers and there will be an art auction online.”

Ticket holders can fully donate their tickets to the arts center or receive vouchers for the food vendors that were scheduled to be part of the festivities. The online gala will have a watch party at 8 p.m. Aug. 27.

Summer art camps will also not take place this year, though there are plans to offer fall classes.

“We will have limited class enrollment and I don’t think we will have as many drop-in art sessions,” Baxter said. “They will look different because you can’t just show up. You will have to call in.”

With the reopening of the center, the 14 resident artists and three art organizations are also able to offer classes once they present a plan with the safety precautions and measures they are taking.

“We have to keep track of everybody that goes into the building, clean counters and use certain cleaners,” said Diana Marta, a resident artist who has resumed teaching classes to a few students.

“My students, we’ve all known each other awhile and they are all adults,” Marta said. “I’m not really anxious for new people right now.”

Since March, Marta has discovered herself looking at the world in a different light, she said, and her art work is reflecting that.

“There is new strange stuff now that is the new norm,” Marta said. “It is a new playing field.”

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For the members exhibit Tuesday, Marta has been collecting Barbie dolls for an installation piece that reflects her thoughts on this new norm.

“All the Barbies get together in glass containers ... and do their social thing,” Marta said. “If anything else, you might find your favorite Barbie doll. I have all kinds.”

The Howard County Arts Council is still accepting applications through July 23 for its Paint It! Ellicott City 2020 plein air painting juried event scheduled for Oct. 15 to 19.

“At this point, we are hoping for some type of reception to present the awards and celebrate the opening of the exhibit,” Perna said, though plans could change.

Plans are already in motion for the the council’s ARTsites program, which places selected art in sites around the county. Twelve art pieces have been selected and are scheduled to be installed in August, Perna said.

“We do so many different things,” Perna said. “We have a great board and a dedicated staff. We’re all creative.”

Baxter is just happy that the doors of the center are open again.

“I am happy to be back,” Baxter said. “It feels more normal even though we are wearing masks and there are limited people in the building. It feels like we can stand on our feet again.”

The Howard County Art Center, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City, is open from 1 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. For information, call 410-313-2787 or go to hocoarts.org.

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