Despite the pandemic the New Hampshire Chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art was able to successfully mount several exhibits in 2020, and develop new techniques to reach audiences. Our biggest show of the year was “A Closer Look” at the Jaffrey Civic Center in Jaffrey, NH, October 16 – November 13, 2020. Our exhibitions committee volunteers negotiated with the Jaffrey Civic Center director to fulfill the requirements of all pandemic protocols, which at that time was a constantly moving target. Would the Civic Center be open? If so, would they allow us to have an opening reception? And what would a reception look like during COVID? We finally got the OK for the show including a reception to be held outdoors with a limited number of people, invitations sent only to participants (no publicity to the general public) and a rain date a week later. The opening reception invite included a list of COVID instructions.

Visitors at an exhibition

That Saturday started out rainy, but by afternoon was cloudy and cool in the mid 50’s, just comfortable enough to be outside. It was a classic Fall New England afternoon in a quaint New England town, and worth the drive just to see the waning, but still spectacular Fall foliage. Masks were mandatory and social distancing was encouraged. At this point, NH had a very low percentage of positive cases of just 1.2%. Jaffrey, tucked away in the southwestern part of the state almost under the shadow of Mt. Monadnock, had less than 5 current cases of COVID. Statistically it was one of the safest places in the country to hold an event. Only 20 people were allowed inside the building at a time. Food brought to the opening by participants was wrapped as individual servings and spread on tables on the large brick patio out front. A musical duo played folk tunes on the other end. Hand sanitizer was everywhere. 

We wondered how many people would attend. Would members and their friends feel comfortable, despite the risk, to make the trek to Jaffrey? I honestly thought we’d be lucky to get 10 people, so I was pleasantly surprised to see approximately 30 people attend. Not so many that it was worrisome and against the Jaffrey Center rules, but enough to make it fun and worth the effort. But it didn’t happen without stress. It’s difficult to relax and truly enjoy yourself amongst so many people during a pandemic. And although everyone wore a mask, there were lapses in social distancing – understandable considering how difficult it is to have a conversation with a fellow artist you haven’t seen all year, voices muffled by masks and struggling to understand their comments. (What? Did you say “I oil painted” or “I, oy, fainted?”) I’m happy to report that there were no known infections resulting from this event (phew!).
Jaffrey exhibition

Concerned that few people would feel comfortable to visit the exhibit, we gathered photographs of the artwork from the participants and created an online slide show on our WCANH website. We had done this for an earlier exhibit in the summer which did not have a reception, “Narratives” at Vynn Art Gallery in Meredith, NH. We also posted some of the artwork on the WCANH Facebook group. For our Annual Fall meeting we created a video of the slide show to music and posted it to our new WCANH Youtube channel. We have never done so much online recording in the past and now we wonder: will this be a common task for all our shows in the future? Keeping an easily accessible public record of our exhibitions is certainly worthwhile.
With the NH positive COVID percentage now rising sharply, we don’t foresee an opening reception happening anytime soon. Will the next opening be on zoom? Will we chat with wine and cheese from our own fridge, and watch a slide show of work that will never physically hang in a gallery? Is AR – Augmented Reality – in our exhibitions future? Stay tuned.