BLOOMSBURG — COVID-19 shutdowns haven’t stopped The Exchange, in Bloomsburg, from doing what it does best: promoting artists and connecting them with one another.

The not-for-profit arts organization recently implemented a virtual postcard show called “Bridging the Physical Distancing.” Approximately two dozen artists from throughout the region — and even a former Bloomsburg resident who has been quarantining in Puerto Rico — participated in the show, which called for them to make postcards with their artwork, and then send it to another participating artist. They also submitted a digital photo of their work for an online exhibition on The Exchange’s website.

According to Oren Helbok, executive director of The Exchange, a postcard show, called “Let Me Introduce Myself,” was held at the gallery in 2016. This year, the idea was reprised to keep the new art and connections going.

“We asked artists to send us their names and addresses, and then we randomly shuffled the names and sent each artist someone else’s contact information,” Helbok said. “Every artist made a piece, photographed it, and then sent the piece by U.S. mail to the recipient artist.”

“We wished to make this exhibition an opportunity to deliberately and explicitly build connections between people at a time when we have all had to largely separate ourselves from others,” Helbok added. “Just about everyone enjoys getting mail, and how exciting to receive an original artwork, perhaps from a complete stranger — but of course when I hold a card in my hand, addressed to me and signed by another person, that person does not feel like such a stranger at all.”

Some of the participating artists had never shown at the gallery before, and submissions represented a variety of media, Helbok said, including “drawing, painting, photography, collage and even fabric.”

Artists excited for project

The opportunity was certainly welcomed by artists.

Chet Davis is an artist who works out of his studio at his home in Paxinos. He submitted a postcard art made of gouache paint on paper, that he titled “We Could Be Heroes,” named after one of his favorite songs, he said, by David Bowie. He believes it’s timely for the world we’re all living in currently.

“I feel we can all be heroes by helping each other through this,” he said. Over the past couple of months, Davis has been working on several art pieces that he believes is “a visual commentary of what we are going through.”

“I’m very appreciative of The Exchange and other venues that are continuing to give artists opportunities to exhibit their work via social media during this pandemic,” he said.

Ron Lambert, associate professor of art/sculpture at Bloomsburg University, agrees.

“The Exchange has had the job of connecting artists in the local community and during the shutdown, it felt like we needed that connection more than ever,” he said.

Lambert created a postcard that he said “resembles a small island.”

“In this time, we all feel like we are on our own island,” he explained. He created the at by drawing the island on vellum on top of a piece of foam, stretching the shape. “I thought of it as inviting someone onto my personal island,” he said.

Another participating artist, Gina Dignazio, of Hazle Township, created her postcard using the theme of a recent series of paintings she has been working on: “Artistic Botany,” which combine “botanical studies with cursive writing describing the specimen,” she said. Her postcard focused on poppies, which she made with colored pencil and permanent marker on thick paper. She sent the postcard to an artist in Catawissa.

Having participated in many exhibits at The Exchange over the years, Dignazio said she has loved being meeting and connecting with other area artists, especially at themed exhibits: “It’s very interesting to me to see how other artists interpret the theme through their work,” she said.

“Since the COVID-19 crisis, I really miss going to exhibits,” she said. That’s why, “As soon as I saw the invite for the postcard show, I was on board!”

Helbok said entries were requested to be received in early May. The virtual show was posted online on May 8, and, he said, “It will remain available on the website long into the future.”

Fostering connections

Since early 2014, The Exchange has hosted fifty shows at its current gallery space, and has promoted the work of more than 700 artists, from “university art professors to preschool children,” Helbok said. They accept work from any artist from anywhere in the world.

The postcard show is just its latest efforts to let art do what art is for.

“Art always fosters connections,” Helbok said. “But when we cannot invite people into our gallery, we have had to move our activities much more onto the online world. The postcard show’s online presence helps bolster the beauty that The Exchange shares with the world.”

For more information, and to view the postcard show, visit www.exchangearts.org.

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