By Abbey Edmonson
In the weeks following the COVID-19 outbreak in America, most cities in the country are eerily quiet. Restaurants are delivery-only, everything not deemed essential is closed, and many events are postponed or canceled completely. For small-town local businesses and artists, this takes away any source of income.
In reaction to the status of the community, Lafayette Oxford Foundation for Tomorrow and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council partnered to create Stay@Home Festival, a completely virtual arts festival. Stay@Home Fest gives local businesses and artists a platform to showcase their work and allow conversations to occur despite social distancing.
The festival incorporates a wide variety of performances, activities and showcases. From cocktail tutorials to movie screenings and art challenges, the festival allows anyone from the LOU community to showcase their work to anyone with internet access. Movie screenings and other videos are shown on Facebook Live, and scheduled discussion panels with filmmakers are held via Zoom.
Everything is free, but there is an option to tip online. There is also an online store featuring work from local artists. Events are still being added daily, and artists are encouraged to apply. The schedule is constantly updated on the YAC Facebook page.
YAC Director Wayne Andrews said that while the situation is less than ideal, he is glad that we live in a time where artists have the ability to operate digitally. His goal with Stay@Home Fest is to continue connecting the community despite being unable to meet in person. Andrews said that the festival will probably continue until the quarantine is lifted and people can operate as usual again.
“Obviously, we’re hoping this will all end soon,” Andrews said. “But I think, if anything, it has shown the creativity of the arts community and how entrepreneurial they are by immediately switching things over to digital format, still putting out content, still finding ways to engage people… It may be a digital front porch, but people can still gather on the front porch and talk and connect.”
One local artist participating in the festival is musician Silas Reed. Reed’s full-time job is music, which can make things difficult when venues are closed due to quarantine. He has worked with YAC before, and Andrews reached out to him about the festival. He live-streamed a show on the YAC Facebook page at 7 p.m. on March 23.
“It wasn’t really foreign for me,” Reed said. “Playing for them like that, you just act like it’s one person. You look right in the camera from time to time, and you let them know that you care about what they feel and you’re here for them. It felt natural to me.”
Reed said that having a strong presence on the internet is important for growing success today. While monetary support is always helpful, interacting with artists on social media is helpful as well.
“Share a post,” Reed said. “As a musician in the digital age, it’s all about getting the algorithm to look favorably upon you. When people like things, comment, share—even when they’re being antagonistic—just keep thinking about me. Keep talking about me. Share these songs that I’m releasing. That all helps.”
Rachel Oakes, a junior pre-dental major at the University of Mississippi, viewed Reed’s performance. She said that supporting local artists digitally is more important now than ever.
“Digital festivals are essential right now because they allow people to connect with others and show love to their communities without endangering their health or the health of anyone else,” Oakes said. “It also lets people interact with wider audiences that may not have been able to be reached in a normal situation.”
Andrews said that the push to move to digital is helping artists in more ways than one. The Mississippi Arts Commission and other art councils in Mississippi have reached out to him about collaboration in the near future. There are now plans in the works to create a “Stay@Home Mississippi Festival” that would highlight the work of artists from all over the state.
“Not that Oxford and Lafayette County aren’t wonderful, but a state-wide effort would give us the opportunity to show people that there’s great art everywhere,” Andrews said. “Unfortunately, a tragedy like this has been the thing that’s helped us get all of the art groups to work together.”