The Art of Survival

Artists and galleries get creative during COVID-19

By Jessica Laskey
September 2020

When COVID-19 forced the closure of Sacramento art galleries, the local arts community began a fight for its life. No longer able to welcome visitors to view art in person, galleries had to figure out other ways to keep their clients engaged—and their artists afloat.

“The word ‘pivot’ is used frequently these days to describe how businesses are trying to adjust at this time, but pivot doesn’t quite seem adequate for how rapidly (health protocols) change,” says Nisa Hayden of the Hayden Arts Agency, which represents local artists and galleries. “It feels more like a pirouette to me. We are spinning so fast right now and the only way to stay balanced is to select your spot and hold it. The making and marketing and selling of art demands unblinking focus.”

That focus has had to undergo a major shift in recent months, as those who relied on exposure in gallery exhibitions—and the sales those exhibitions initiated—were forced into virtual reality. Artists like Leslie Toms have completely revamped their websites to not only display their artwork, but also accept online sales and eventually host virtual classes. Kathy Caitano, owner of Artistic Edge Gallery on Fulton Avenue, hired a marketing manager to handle online posting and ad implementation to drive traffic to the gallery’s online store. Posts on social media and frequent emails have also become a critical way to reach potential clients whenever in-person receptions aren’t feasible.

“In March, when we were first locked down, we started sending daily emails to our clients called Daily Dose of Art,” says Cynthia Lou, owner of Sparrow Gallery—which implemented curbside pickup for online purchases, along with its R Street neighbors ARTHOUSE Gallery & Studios, Tea Cozy, Rumpelstiltskin Yarn Store, Arareity Jewelers and River City Marketplace. “We would feature smaller items, mostly $500 and under. They were a good distraction for our clients who were sheltering at home.

Beth Jones and Lynda Jolley of JAYJAY Gallery turned their online platform into a gallery, hosting four themed virtual shows posted on Instagram and Facebook and shared with their email list of 1,800 art lovers and collectors. Similarly, Hayden reports, Elliott Fouts Gallery began doing online pop-up sales. And several annual arts events usually held in person, such as the Crocker Art Museum’s Big Names, Small Art auction and Verge Center for the Arts’ Sac Open Studios, shifted to an online format.

Neath, owner of Archival Gallery, moved the gallery’s entire collection online and, under the moniker The Art Lady, implemented a new website called UnOpen Studios to showcase artists in their environment. After all, in the arts, the show must go on.

The lockdown did have one unexpected upside for many artists—it gave them more time to focus on doing the art itself.

“My schedule was so busy prior to COVID that I often didn’t get as much time as I wanted just practicing, repeating and doing drawing and painting exercises,” says Patris, who runs Patris Studio and Art Gallery in Oak Park. “Taking time to practice art and make art helps connect us back to our creative inner self. Sometimes in our busy lives, we forget to make space for that.” Patris’ studio is now hosting online classes.


Toms signed on to an international challenge with Dutch artist Roos Schuring to paint 20 florals in 30 days. She managed to do 18 oil paintings of still-life flowers and enjoyed it so much she’s continuing the challenge and posting the results on her social media. Ceramist Julie Clements is using this time to hone her clay skills and figure out her path forward. Like many artists, Clements’ primary outlet for art sales was gallery shows, so she’s had to get creative to get her work in front of people.

And Archival’s Neath has even taken up a new artistic hobby: old-fashioned embroidery. “It’s very soothing,” Neath says. “Though I do feel sorry for everyone who’s getting an embroidered pillow case for Christmas!”

When restrictions were lifted slightly in June to allow small in-person gatherings, Sacramento art galleries jumped at the chance to welcome the public back. Archival Gallery offers 10-person, invitation-only mini receptions, as well as private tours for small groups booked in advance. JAYJAY and Sparrow galleries also offer appointment-only viewing (Sparrow has limited the number of clients in the gallery space to 10).

For the first Second Saturday after the lockdown was lifted, the R Street building extended the event from three to five hours, moved it from evening to afternoon and capped total attendance at 60 people. Other artists like Stephanie Taylor hosted an outdoor open studio garden party, in partnership with Archival, in August that required an RSVP and face coverings at all times.

For those who don’t make art but wish to support it, the most important thing you can do is continue to stay engaged. Lou suggests donating to arts organizations directly—and, of course, buying pieces that speak to you. Hayden recommends following artists and Sacramento art galleries on social media and if something appeals to you, comment and share. Sign up for emails and newsletters. Make an appointment to visit a gallery or an artist studio. Show the arts they matter.

“At a time when we cannot be together except masked, in small numbers and 6 feet apart, art offers us communion,” Hayden says. “Be it a musical phrase, a poem, a play, a dancer in flight, a painting or a sculpture, art lifts us up. Art inspires. And inspiration is necessary now and always.”

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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