WKCTC Clemens Fine Arts Centers Partners with Local Musicians to Create Online "Inside Out" Series

May 8, 2020

The performing, musical, and visual art communities have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 shutdowns. In an effort to support local artists (many of whom have been forced to cancel most, if not all, upcoming performances), WKCTC's Clemens Fine Arts Center has partnered with 19 regional musicians to create the "Inside Out" project. Todd Birdsong, Clemens Fine Arts Center director, speaks to Tracy Ross about the weekly online series.

From the Clemens Fine Arts Center website:

"Local communities, Kentucky, and the country continue to pull together and support one another in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The Clemens Fine Arts Center is introducing "Inside Out" - an online music project to support local and regional singer/songwriters and to brighten lives at the same time."

The Inside Out project is a weekly series of videos featuring local musicians including J.D. Wilkes, Lew Jetton, Jenny Johnson, and Fate McAfee. The artists were only given a loose prompt, resulting in a wide range of videography, musical, and creative styles. Each musician performs stripped-down material from home, some of which is brand new material written specifically for the collaboration.

"Over the years, we've developed a lot of relationships and friendships with these groups...bands...and the individuals themselves," Birdsong begins. "The performing arts have been one of the hardest-hit industries. The arts have always been about bringing people together in groups -- whether that's 20 people or 200 or 2,000. We're not able to do that."

"I know that these artists, at this time of year in the spring, coming on summer, there's lots of summer gigs, tours, and festivals. I know that they weren't able to keep those dates. They lost shows. They lost gigs. The Clemens Fine Arts Center had to cancel its last two main stage shows and its last Backstage Pass because of the pandemic. We know what it's like to lose that opportunity and to lose that revenue."

"Because we had to cancel those shows, we had a little bit of money that we didn't have to spend on those particular shows," Birdsong continues. I thought [the Inside Out project] was a great way for the Clemens Fine Arts Center to support those artists who have helped us in the past. A lot of those artists were Backstage Pass artists at one point or were going to be Backstage Pass artists for our series. [We wanted to make] sure in some small way we could support them financially. Also, it was an opportunity for the college and the Clemens Fine Arts Center to give something to the community. Nobody has to pay to watch these videos. You go to artsinfocus.org, you follow the link, and you're able to see everything.

Birdsong says the artists' response was grateful and excited. "Within two or three days of sending an invitation out through e-mail, I had 12 or 13 of the artists commit to it. Ultimately, we had 19 total. We had 2 or 3 that had conflicts that weren't able to commit to it, but they were all very appreciative and very excited about it. It gave at least a handful of them an opportunity to write new material that deals directly with the pandemic."

The uncertain future of the live performance industry has been "weighing heavily on my mind," Birdsong says. "As I'm sure other arts programmers, producers, and directors have been thinking the same thing. We're all living two weeks into the future. That's about as far out as most people are looking at things."

"The research and the things that I've read online about performing arts in larger cities and in smaller venues...some of the surveys that I've been seeing arts groups doing...one big piece is a vaccine," Birdsong continues. "If there were a vaccine, the majority of people would seem to feel safe about getting back into larger groups and going to performing arts."

"Realistically, I'm looking at spring being the time when we are able to even start beginning to have shows where we're going to have an audience. I'm experimenting with two or three different models of trying to be relevant while I can't have live performances." The Inside Out project, Birdsong explains, is a trial run of one of those experiments. "Videos are going to be a big part of the performing arts. It may be a year out before we're able to have another live show. At least, live in the way that we knew it. There are variations in between there."

"I feel confident that at least for the first six months of things returning to normal, there will be this outpouring of support for artists. Not just performing artists, but visual artists -- galleries and museums, going to parks and zoos. Any of those places were we can kind of collect and gather as a group. If I'm going to be totally honest, we're creatures of habit. We will quickly kind of hit the status quo. 'Well, I think we'll go back to the way things used to be.' I want to be optimistic, but I also want to be honest," Birdsong laughs. "I think that [audiences] will appreciate it more, but I don't know that it's a sea change."

To access the Inside Out project, go to ArtsInFocus.org. "That takes you to our homepage on our website," Birdsong explains. There's a link there on that page that you can click on, and it takes you to the video playlist. It's a six-week-long project. Every Monday, we add three new artists. We just keep adding that to the playlist. You watch it for free; there's no sign up or anything like that. It's just there for you to consume."