Art Vacancy COVID Edition

Last summer, in the midst of the shut down I received the Iowa Arts Council Individual Artist Project Grant and was able to distribute $4800 directly to twelve local artist through a curated series of shop front window exhibits in Downtown Ames, Iowa. The project brought a spark of hope and cultural interest during a dark, isolating time. Here’s the back story that inspired my grant application.


While I set out in 2020 with this grand idea/personal challenge of applying for a grant, I never thought it would be to host a series of exhibits during a pandemic. Really, in my mind, it was going to fund the next phase of my migratory bird series which involves traveling around Iowa for a year. Guess who isn’t traveling? Art practice goal achievement unlocked — just not in the way I originally intended.

Special thanks to this stellar organization that directly supports artists making art in Iowa.
Support provided by the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Last Spring changed everything. And we realized this “pandemic thing” was going to be here for an unknown time. As a business owner, every day was different. “Uncertainty” did not even come close to describing how I was feeling. And as I made the choice to close my shop, others were doing the same. Closed. Closed. Closed. Closed due to Covid. Closed due to exposure. Closed for unknown duration. Closed. And the worst. For Rent.

And each day coming to work I saw people walking by. With no where to land, our community was out for a stroll finally embracing its walkability. And I wanted to create an experience for them. Something to look forward to instead of just closed signs. 

As an artist, I had mapped out my year — art walk, exhibits, public speaking, grants, new work, studio tour, collaborative projects, maybe even a residency — evaporated over night. I knew it was a hard road ahead for all of us. The lack of a festival season, or exhibits and residencies, damages an artist’s ability to make an income. And unlike my tea business (I applied for and received a PPP loan to pay my employees and the Iowa Economic Disaster Relief Grant to stabilize our supply chain), there was no assistance for my art business.

As a business community we had to cancel or pushback our summer schedule of events for the safety of our community. And many of our businesses were closed for 2-4 months. Little Woods was closed to walk in traffic from mid March to mid July. On Mainstreet, during the summer, we are used to the students being gone, but tourism is high. Not so much this year.

Alicia Wilkinson‘s work placed at Nook & Nest from July – September, 309 Main Street

As we reopened for business, in the forefront of all our minds was how can we safely bring people downtown? As we stayed closed, how can we show our support for our community and not just be a vacant space, another shuttered window? Without museums, art centers, galleries, and festivals how could create a sustainable art practice?

I had already set up an artist for Art Walk, so when it was cancelled I asked him if he would want to do an exhibit in my shop window. When I told my neighboring business owners, they said they wanted to do the same if I could find artists for them. When I told my art friends, they said they would help me put it out to the community and apply for a grant so artist would be supported even if the community couldn’t purchase work directly (though many did).

We had work that ranged all media, methods, and artists of all types and backgrounds. It brought hundreds of people downtown in a nice slow summer long trickle.

Material Studies, Junk Mail Migration, and En. at ZW Mercantile July – October

We heard all kinds of feedback, the best of which was that this was the first artwork they had seen in person in months and the simple act of viewing had a profound effect on them. There may have been tears of joy.

Special thanks to the Iowa Arts Council who made this exhibit series possible. To the stores who hosted work. And to the artists who shared their work with our community.

Visit Ames project page to see an overview of the project, artists’ work installed and donation links for each artist.

Alicia Wilkinson at Nook & Nest
Anahy Corujo Ramirez at We the Dreamerz
Catherine Reinhart at Thread It
Caroline Freese at Morning Bell Coffee Roaster
Tiberiu Chelcea at Cooks’ Emporium
Mia Buch at Little Woods Herbal
Carmen Cerra at Little Woods Herbal
Jamie Malone at Thread It
Kristin M Roach at ZW Mercantile
Rami Mannan at the London Underground
Jazmine Dirks at We the Dreamerz
Naomi Friend at Thai Spice Restaurant

A final thought before I close this project out for the time being. As we enter our second year of COVID related closures, diminished capacity and tourism, how can we continue to support local artists and each other?

As a Business Owner/Purchaser/Designer

  • Find local artist that resonated with your brand to sell on consignment.
  • Host an exhibit for them in your store front.
  • Buy artists work wholesale – think the cards you sell by the cash register, there are many artists who could supply those for you. Etsy is a great place to find talent if you don’t know where to start.
  • Buy prints and originals from artists to decorate/enhance your space.

As an Individual

  • Like, Follow, and Share them on Social Media
  • Use their contact form to send them an email saying what you like about their work – a virtual high five.
  • Send a text message to a bestie sharing an artist’s work who you know they will love.
  • Take it a step further and buy work from artists as a way to let your friends/family know you care for them – getting art work as a gift if the ultimate “I love you” from afar. A perfect mail art gift is a zine! (Just saying!)
  • Be indulgent and spruce up your own place with a beautiful print or original – you can get these from artists in a vast price range from $ to $$$$$. You have been spending a lot of time at home and not vacationing. Just get that print or original from that artist you’ve been loving on.

As we stay distanced, studio work, which is by its nature isolating; can feel all the more so during this time. A kind note really can make all the difference to someone who is feeling alone with their canvas.

Until next time,

Kristin M Roach

Published by kristinMroach

Hi! I am an artist, author, and owner of a modern apothecary called Little Woods in Ames, Iowa.

One thought on “Art Vacancy COVID Edition

  1. It is lovely when you can get creatives together. Even better when you get feedback of how positive your art is especially during these times. We are still dealing with covid.

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