The Long Island Art Council at Freeport was organizing its fifth annual Poetry Writing Review, which showcases the poems of students throughout Nassau County, just as the pandemic hit last March.
As schools shut down, so too did the contest, as well as LIACF’s regular fundraisers and annual Arty Party, which celebrates local artists.
“It was quite the blow,” said Lois Howes, president of the LIACF board. “We couldn’t raise money or hold our classes at the Recreation Center. It was very tough.”
Despite the challenges, the LIACF did hold its summer concert series on the Nautical Mile, and this year, with more than a third of the county now vaccinated against Covid-19, council leaders said they hoped to bring the arts back to Freeport and the South Shore.
The LIACF, a nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote the arts in Freeport and neighboring communities, was founded 47 years ago.
Laurence Dresner, its executive director, said the past year was a time to be patient and learn new lessons as the organization moved to a digital platform.
The group’s leaders communicated through texts and video calls, and most of their events had to be canceled because of Covid-19 regulations, except the concert series.
Although concerts were limited in size, Dresner said they proved successful, with bands playing socially distant shows at the Nautical Mile every Thursday from late July to early September.
“A lot of the bands lost their usual gigs because of all the shutdowns, so they were more than happy to come play at our shows,” Dresner recalled. “The attendance couldn’t be as big as other years, but people were still eager to come out and enjoy time out of their houses.”
Howes added that she took videos of parts of the performances to promote the events on social media.
LIACF was also able to salvage its 40th annual Juried Photography Show, which brings in a professional photographers to judge photo entries from across Long Island.
While the show normally concludes with a live gallery display at the Freeport Memorial Library, last year’s show was only available to view online. This year, however, the LIACF plans to hold the contest in November in order to increase the likelihood of holding the gallery event in person.
As for the upcoming summer concert series, the organization is working to bring back the bands from last year, and to introduce a new performance from the EastLine Theatre group, which has agreed to stage its rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” in Freeport.
LIACF leaders said they hope local businesses would support the event in exchange for advertisement banners added to the stages. “We’re really hoping for extra community support this year since our events help bring people down to the Nautical Mile,” Howes said.
The LIACF has also joined other arts councils and Vision Long Island to promote #ShotToReunite, which calls on local artists to create and submit works of art that could be used in a campaign to boost confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine. The works would also focus on communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“The arts, in all of its forms, are able to open up authentic, respectful conversations within diverse communities like ours, and deliver messages that speak to social issues in ways that traditional marketing methods cannot,” said Lauren Wagner, director of the Long Island Arts Alliance. “I can think of no better way to activate our collective resources in support of the monumental public health initiative that lay before us.”
The hope for the project is to encourage as many people as possible to be vaccinated in order to help Long Island return to normalcy and, in turn, help reinvigorate that arts.
As the LIAFC works on these projects, along with reopening the Art Alcove and Art Alley at the Recreation Center, the organization is working on its sixth annual Poetry Writing Review. Dresner said the hope is to gather enough poems from local students to create and publish a collection of the works during National Poetry Month this April.
“We’re still forging ahead and planning for great things this summer and fall,” Dresner said.
To learn more about LIAFC events and programs, visit liacfreeport.org. To learn how to take part in the Shot To Reunite project, visit shottoreunite.org.