Re-emerging, re-imagining: The LAVA Center reopens with precautions in place

  • Michael Nix plays a banjo in his office/studio at The LAVA Center in Greenfield. He will be the first musician featured in a socially distanced music series beginning next month. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Inside The LAVA Center, Local Access to Valley Arts, at 324 Main St. between the Pushkin and TD Bank. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Silverthorne Theater Company now has an office at the LAVA Center, Local Access to Valley Arts, at 324 Main Street. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • An exhibit hangs inside The LAVA Center's expanded gallery in Greenfield. Contributed photo

Staff Writer
Published: 7/30/2020 9:55:23 AM

Only a few months after it’s grand opening in January, The LAVA Center in Greenfield was forced to temporarily shutter its physical space in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the Main Street arts center has taken its programming online, hosting theatrical performances, book clubs, musical showcases and other art-related events in the digital realm.

Now, under the state’s third phase of reopening, the organization is propping open its doors once again for socially distanced art events.

“We have expanded our gallery space so we have two shows running concurrently — photographic exhibits now — and we expect to make more use of the galleries. We have wonderful walls that can accommodate people who are physically spaced from one another, spaced in time,” said Jan Maher, co-coordinator and board member at The LAVA Center, which affords community space along with the offices of Silverthorne Theater Co., Local Access to Valley Arts, Dog Hollow Press, Musica Franklin and Nix Works, a business operated by local musician Michael Nix. 

The current exhibit featured in the gallery includes photographs by Em Langevin, of Picture PLURfict Photography and artist Lindy Whiton’s “My Franklin County.” 

Besides the expanded gallery space, Maher says the LAVA Center has been busy organizing an online short play festival titled “From A Distance: 2020 (corona)vision(s).” The festival features 18 short views of COVID-19 created by local and regional artists Nina Gross, Karen Miller, Vanessa Query, Marlon Carey and Maher. Along with digital access to the plays via the center’s website, the program can be viewed at 4 p.m. Thursday and on Friday at 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Greenfield Community Television’s local channel. 

Among other events, one notable initiative happening in corelation with the reopening is a lunchtime music series. The series will feature both recorded shows and live performances. Featured live musicians will only play stringed instruments (there won't be any singing or wind instruments to minimize the risk of infection) and attendees can bring their own lunches.

Michael Nix will perform at the first event, scheduled Aug.12. Nix will play pieces from the New Classic Banjo Project. Tables will be set up to maintain recommended social distancing and seating will be limited (first come, first seated).

Additionally, local artist Lindy Whiton is accepting submissions for a Community Art Show, which will be on display for the month of November. The theme of the show is: “Community, what does it mean to you?” Submissions are due Thursday, Oct. 1. Image submissions can be sent to lindy.whiton@gmail.com. An opening reception is planned for Saturday, Nov. 7 from 2 to 4 p.m. There will be a $5 fee per piece to help pay for the gallery and reception refreshments.

When it became evident that the pandemic would force the center’s closure a few months ago, Mahar said organizers “immediately invested in equipment that would let us socially distance in the space,” such as an air filter, a quality video camera and lapel mics, “so people can be heard in an intimate way even if people are seated 6 feet away.”

The facility is operating with restricted capacity and has implemented precautions such as seating that’s spaced out. 

“We are a small space to begin with. Even though we have a lot of square footage we are governed by a retail space code,” Mahar said. “Our total (capacity) in the space has always been limited to 49 — with the current restrictions it’s more like 20 or 25.”

Like other area art venues, Mahar said The LAVA Center has weathered a difficult few months. She noted they received some assistance through the government’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans and small business loans, but it was about a tenth of what they requested.

Stay-at-home orders “created quite the burden in terms of our need to continue to pay rent for the space even though we couldn’t hold events,” Mahar said. Additionally, a number of the grants they’d hoped to receive were canceled — “Those organizations have refocused (grants) on some of the more immediate needs — food, shelter. That means we need to make that up through private fundraising. … That’s hard when you’re new in town.”

To that end, the LAVA Center is accepting donations and managing an ongoing subscription campaign through which people can pledge to make a monthly donation.

“We are earning our nonprofit stripes by being really nonprofit,” Mahar said. “We welcome every dollar people are willing to donate.”

A small bright spot amid the challenge, she noted, is that it’s forced the center to move its programming online, some of which has been successful. A weekly book club, for example, is no longer constrained to the physical confines of the center’s roughly 3,000 square feet of space. Through word of mouth, some members now hail from as far away as Ohio, Arizona and Michigan.

“That has proven to be uniquely beneficial. We can draw a group from such a wide range,” Mahar said, also noting the discussions are more focused digitally as compared to in-person meetings that sometimes become more like “social events when they’re held in living rooms.”

Another program that was successfully moved online is the center’s Monday night “Lit up the Night” art series, which happens on the first and third Mondays of every month. The series features readings, performances and book talks by local authors along with other literature-based programs.

While the space has been closed, Mahar says they’ve received a lot of support from Franklin County’s art community, bolstering her own believe that promoting the arts is an important and worthwhile endeavor.

“At times like these they’re even more crucial,” she said. “Certainly, people who live alone, in particular, have expressed missing those opportunities to gather with others.”

For more information, and to see other events currently happening at the center such as an ongoing online playwriting workshop, visit localaccess.org.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.




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