How to safely date online during the COVID-19 pandemic

How to safely date online during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of changes, including to how people date online. If you’re taking to the internet to meet someone, there’s a safe way to do so. Palo Alto’s prolonged and polarizing debate over whether nonresidents should be allowed to visit Foothills Park moved toward a compromise on Monday, when the City Council agreed to expand access to the pristine and exclusive preserve. Roughly one-third of Epic’s employees have continued to work on the campus — where every employee has his or her own office  — since the pandemic hit., an online source for unique pet items, has launched a new pet safety product that brings to life 'In Case of Emergency' planning for pets, just in time to help pet parents anxiously returning to the workplace. For its 35th anniversary, Santa Fe Art Institute makes the case for artists to change the world amid unrest and uncertainty.

There’s still no telling when we’ll return to the old normal here in the United States, but that’s not stopping people from dating and trying to meet new people online.

With the pandemic top of mind, most online daters are doing their part to stay safe.

“Video is very strong at assessing appearance, personality. There’s no reason to meet up with someone when a simple two or three video chat can disqualify them,” said Geoff Cook, CEO of The Meet Group.

The Meet Group, which owns several social networking apps, expects people to continue to video chat before going on a date in person even after the pandemic. But the company has also noticed a need to help online daters make healthy decisions. So, it created the Safer Dating Advisory Board.

The Meet Group recruited epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors to come up with tips for safer dating. The first thing the health experts suggest is that daters be honest with one another.

“Talk about comfort level, with in-person interactions, with potential dates,” said Dr. Tali Elfassy with the Safer Dating Advisory Board. “Talk about your normal activities in your day to day life. So, let your potential partners know if you work from home, whether you live in a multi-generational household.”

Both people should assess their own risk and whether they feel comfortable with in-person dating.

People should listen to local orders, especially if they live in an area with a high number of cases. The advisory board says people in these areas should stay home.

If daters do choose to go out, they should meet outdoors, wear a mask, and if they are meeting a lot of people, they should get tested and try to reduce the number of people they’re meeting.

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Palo Alto moves to expand access to 'residents-only' Foothills Park

Palo Alto moves to expand access to ‘residents-only’ Foothills Park

Palo Alto’s prolonged and highly polarizing debate over whether nonresidents should be allowed to visit Foothills Park moved toward compromise on Monday night, when the City Council agreed to expand access to the city’s most exclusive natural preserve.

The council voted 5-2, with Mayor Adrian Fine and Alison Cormack dissenting, to approve a pilot program that the Parks and Recreation Commission crafted last year, which will allow the city to sell up to 50 permits per day to nonresidents wishing to visit the 1,400-acre preserve off Page Mill Road. In doing so, however, the council also indicated that it wants to send the highly contentious issue to the voters in 2022 and directed staff to make the program “revenue neutral.”

With its vote, the council took a small step toward amending a divisive policy that has been in place for half a century and that prior councils have tried and failed to change time and time again. Much like in the past, the council found itself in the midst of an argument between those who claimed that the existing “residents-only” restriction is exclusionary, elitist and embarrassing and those who maintained that allowing more visitors would diminish Foothills Park’s pristine setting, imperil wildlife and require costly maintenance.

On Monday, the vast majority of the public speakers belonged to the former camp. Some argued that the residency requirement is deeply discriminatory at best, downright racist at worst. Bruce Reyes-Chow, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said that when he was preparing to move from San Francisco to Palo Alto, his friends told him “Oh, Foothills is yours now.” They did not mean it as a compliment, he said.

The way in which the city engages in “racist, exclusive behavior is symbolic in the park,” Reyes-Chow said.

Claire Elliott, a Ventura resident and ecologist with the nonprofit group Grassroots Ecology, noted that she often enjoys the parks and nature preserves at other cities, including Shoreline Park in Mountain View and the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve in Los Altos. But when people from those cities come to work with Grassroots Ecology, many go away dismayed that they cannot visit Foothills Park unless accompanied by a resident.

Nonresidents already have some options for entering Foothills Park by walking in from Arastradero Preserve or by visiting on a weekday, when the requirement is not enforced. Even so, the city has been turning away more than 3,100 vehicles per year from the park, according to Daren Anderson, assistant director for open space, parks, golf and animal services in the Community Services Department.

Numerous speakers pointed to Palo Alto’s history of redlining, which kept many Black families from buying homes in Palo Alto. Given this history, the residents-only policy only prolongs the legacy of discrimination, they argued.

Others framed expanding access as simply an act of being good neighbors. Rohin Ghosh, a Palo Alto High student, said he often volunteers at Foothills Park. For his Eagle Scout project, he helped build a set of stairs by Boronda Lake, Ghosh told the council.

“The fact that some of the people who volunteered to help on my project, in the hot sun, digging into the hillside so that Palo Alto residents can use that trail, cannot themselves access that park is beyond me,” Ghosh said.

Those favoring the current policy argued that the policy has nothing to do with racial justice and everything to do with preserving sensitive natural habitat in the 1,400-acre open space preserve. Foothills Park is not really a park, said Mark Nadim, who lives close to Foothills Park in the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood. It’s a “very delicate ecological system that is environmentally sensitive.” The more people trample on grasses and vegetation, Nadim said, the longer it takes for grasses and vegetation to recover.

“To frame this issue as racism, segregation or social injustice is an insult to every resident of Palo Alto,” Nadim said. “This is one of the most progressive cities in the country, so let’s not pay attention to words that are meant to intimidate you into opening the park to nonresidents.”

Carlin Otto, a resident of the Charleston-Meadows neighborhood, told the council that many of her neighbors strongly oppose expanding access to the park. She said 33 of her neighbors had signed petitions saying they don’t want to open Foothills Park to the general public. If the council wishes to change the policy, she added, it should do so through a vote of residents.

“I’d sincerely hope that you do not intend or wish to force this down our throats,” Otto told the council. “Remember, we the residents of Palo Alto are the owners of Foothills Park — not you. Your job is to manage this resource according to our wishes.”

Fine and Cormack favored moving ahead with the pilot program with no strings attached. Both argued that expanding access is the “right thing to do” and lauded the Parks and Recreation Commission for crafting the pilot program.

“It isn’t going make it any less special if we share it,” Cormack said of Foothills Park. “I firmly believe, having sat through all of the meetings and going through the details of the pilot program, that there is room. We turn people away and there is room for us to share it.”

Fine chafed at the idea of sending the issue to a vote and predicted that the measure would not pass.

“You don’t put civil rights to a vote,” Fine said. “It’s something significant here, where we are literally discriminating against nonresidents because they’re not wealthy enough to live in Palo Alto and we’re not allowing them access to open space.”

Others were less sanguine about welcoming more visitors to a park that everyone acknowledged was “special.” Councilwoman Lydia Kou cited fire danger, budget challenges and uncertainty over environmental impacts as reasons for proceeding cautiously on opening access. She advocated for preserving the status quo until 2022 and then letting local voters decide.

Councilman Greg Tanaka focused on the city’s budget challenges and hinged his support for the pilot on assurances that the program would be “revenue neutral.”

According to Anderson, the city would need to hire a ranger to ensure proper maintenance under the pilot program (the park’s vacant supervising ranger position is currently frozen due to budget cuts).

Both ultimately agreed to support the pilot program as part of a compromise proposed by Councilwoman Liz Kniss, which called for the pilot program in the short term and the people’s vote in the longer term.

While Kou’s motion called for settling the issue in an election, the directive is non-binding and it will ultimately be up to the City Council in 2022 to determine whether such a vote will be held.

Even with these uncertainties, the Monday vote represents a long-awaited breakthrough in a debate that has been raging in the community for more than half a century. Palo Alto purchased Foothills Park from the family of Russel V. Lee in 1959 at a cost of $1,000 per acre. At the time, it asked two neighboring cities, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills to contribute to the purchase. Both declined.

After opening the park to the public in 1965, Palo Alto instituted the residents-only requirement four years later.

According to a report from the Community Services Department, the city unanimously reaffirmed the restriction in 1973, pointing out that the park’s acquisition was “paid for out of the City’s general fund, and no federal funds were used.” Since then, the issue of expanding access to nonresidents has bubbled up every few years, only to falter under political opposition.

Calls for opening up the park have grown louder in recent months, with both the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Human Relations Commission voting to expand access to nonresidents. To mitigate concerns, the Parks and Recreation Commission suggested a pilot program that would limit the number of daily passes issued to nonresidents to 50 (on traditionally busy days and weekends, the city would issue fewer passes). Nonresidents would also be charged $6.

Social justice advocates, including the Rev. Kaloma Smith, who chairs the city’s Human Relations Commission, and former council member LaDoris Cordell were among the more than 100 residents, community leaders and elected officials who signed a letter in June calling for the council to abolish the residents-only requirement. Since then, groups of students have staged numerous demonstrations near the park, at one point spelling out the word “Desegregate” in large letters near the entrance. And Ryan McCaulley, a former Parks and Recreation Commission member who helped put the pilot program together, resigned from the commission in June after the council voted not to take up the item until after its July recess.

The Monday vote authorizes staff to draft an ordinance for the new program, which would kick off in the fall or winter of this year. The council will still have to approve the ordinance before the program officially launches.

The pilot program falls well short of the type of change that many advocates had clamored for: namely, removing the residents-only policy entirely. Even so, it represents a long-awaited victory for those wishing to make the sprawling preserve less exclusive. According to a report from the Community Services Department, the council considered removing the residents-only requirement in 1991 and 2005 and rejected it both times.

Debbie Mytels served as executive director of Peninsula Conservation Center (now known as Acterra) when the council rejected the policy change in 1998 by an 8-1 vote. At that time, much like today, residents who opposed the policy cited concerns over protecting the natural habitat or focused on the fact that other cities did not pay for the land. Others, she said, made statements such as, “We don’t like those people in our park.”

“This barely veiled racism was shocking to me,” Mytels said, “I thought Palo Altans were more open to diversity and less involved with prejudice. I was wrong and disappointed when the council voted 8-1 (not to expand access). My hope is that 20 years later, we have matured in the community and have learned that people of all races and ethnicities can be respectful to nature.”


Author: Gennady Sheyner

Epic Systems to require nearly 10,000 employees to return to work at its Verona campus on Sept. 21

Epic Systems to require nearly 10,000 employees to return to work at its Verona campus on Sept. 21

Epic Systems will require its roughly 10,000 employees in Wisconsin to return to its campus in Verona on Sept. 21, becoming one of the first large employers to no longer give employees the option of working remotely.

“Over the past several months, our experience has been that results are much better and faster when staff are able to collaborate on new and creative ideas during in-person brainstorming sessions compared to over the phone or video conference,” the company said in a statement.

Employees will be required to wear masks and practice safe physician distancing, the company said. And employees with health conditions that put them at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19 will be able to participate in meetings virtually.

Roughly one-third of Epic’s employees have continued to work on the campus — where most employees have their own office — since the pandemic hit.

The company has 28 buildings on its 1,048-acre campus. It is one of the two largest software companies for electronic health records and had revenue of $3.2 billion in 2019.

The return to work decision sets Epic apart from other software companies such as Alphabet, the parent company of Google, which recently announced that its employees would work remotely until next July. But employers also are discovering the drawbacks, such as challenges in communication and lower productivity, when employees work remotely.

Epic initially plans to begin bringing people back to its campus in phases, starting in late July, but subsequently reconsidered that plan, according to a former employee who asked not to be identified.

In an email to employees Monday, Judy Faulkner, Epic’s founder and CEO, defended the decision to require employees to return to its campus in late September.

“Staff who have returned to campus say there are many reasons why working at Epic is better,” Faulkner wrote. “For example, they say that when we are at work we are on the Epic network and connections to the software and each other are better. You can shut the office door and focus without distractions, which is not always possible if you live with others or in a noisy environment.”

But some Epic employees immediately criticized the decision, saying the move will unnecessarily put their health at risk.

Workers feel like they are being rushed back to the office despite the recent surge in cases, an employee, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears about being punished, wrote in an email.

“They’ve been handling COVID horribly, especially for a healthcare-adjacent company,” the employee wrote. “Dragging their feet on allowing work from home, and rushing us back in despite increasing cases, because of an insistence on abiding by a corporate culture they say makes in-person work not only preferred, but necessary.”

In her email, Faulkner described Epic employees as “heroes helping heroes” who were needed amid the pandemic

“As a healthcare company, we support those on the frontlines of patient care,” Faulkner wrote. “Our work helps the lives and health of millions of people, and especially at this very challenging time, we have a responsibility to do our best. And we need to do it safely.”

Epic is unusual in that almost all of its 10,000 employees work on one campus as opposed to having offices throughout the country or world. And Faulkner stressed that working in-person supports collaboration and creativity.

“Since the pandemic started, together we have invented new things that our customers have told us many times have helped them save lives,” she wrote. “Epic staff working together on campus came up with many of the ideas. It is possible these would not have happened in the time they were needed without the catalyst of us being together.”

She also stressed the importance of in-person meetings.

“Meetings are very important — a few people can get together in a large room, wearing masks and maintaining good social distance, and can whiteboard and brainstorm solutions,” she wrote. “Having done both virtual and physical meetings many times these past months, we have learned that there is a significant difference.”


While Pets Suffer Separation Anxiety as Their Humans Return to Work, a New Pet Safety Product Helps Humans Resolve Their Own Anxieties

While Pets Suffer Separation Anxiety as Their Humans Return to Work, a New Pet Safety Product Helps Humans Resolve Their Own Anxieties

DELRAY BEACH, Fla., Aug. 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ —, an online source for unique pet items, has launched a new pet safety product that brings to life ‘In Case of Emergency’ planning for pets, just in time to help pet parents anxiously returning to the workplace.

As people emerge from lockdown and return to work, many find their pets at home suffering from classic separation anxiety. While pets sulk as their humans return to work, pet parents also experience their own anxieties over pets left home alone.  The Pet Parent Alert Kit has been launched just in time to help them manage these anxieties.

When a pet parent leaves a pet at home to go to work (or run an errand, go to dinner, etc.), they assume their return will be timely. But what if it isn’t? What if suddenly they couldn’t return home due to an accident or emergency? Without a proper plan in place, pets that rely on them could be abruptly left without care.

While an emergency interrupting our daily routine seems improbable, vehicle accident statistics from Progressive Insurance seem to indicate otherwise:

  • 52 percent occur within 5 miles of a person’s home

  • 77 percent occur within 15 miles of a person’s home

A car accident that sends a pet parent to the hospital in an incapacitated state could result in pets at home going without care for an indefinite period of time.  Having an emergency plan in place ahead of an emergency, via The Pet Parent Alert Kit, alleviates concern for such a situation.

“As a veterinarian, I find that pet owners consider their beloved animals to be members of the family. Their critters are loyal and adored companions. Caring for our wonderful creatures is a top priority. But what happens to them if we are in an accident or have a health crisis that lands us in the hospital? The Pet Parent Alert Kit offers peace of mind to animal lovers by providing notification to medical staff, law enforcement or emergency response teams that your animal needs care. I highly recommend this simple-to-use kit that contains everything you need to make sure your fur babies get the vital care they need when you can’t be there.” – Hannah Smith, DVM (DACT candidate), Gainesville, FL 

The kit is comprised of several components, including key ring tags and brightly colored wearables that alert first responders to the existence of pets at home, directing them to emergency contact information stored in the wallet. The ICE contact can be notified of the situation immediately and can take over a pet’s care quickly.  Pets never need to miss a next meal, vital medication or a reassuring hug from a human caretaker.

The kit also provides a ‘Please Rescue My Pets’ home window sticker for fire/flood emergencies.  It notifies firemen or other responders that pets are in the home and need to be found and rescued before leaving the site. This is especially important to have visible during hurricane season on the coast and fire season in the west.

Two versions of the kit are available and priced from $19.95 to $24.95, including shipping. More kit detail is available here:

About is an online source for uniquely designed and carefully curated pet products.  Its mission is to create an evolving world of goodness for pets and their humans, focused on pet safety, wellness and comfort.

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Work of Art

Work of Art

“It’s like an art ghost town,” Stacy Scibelli says.

A moment before, the designer was explaining her modular fabric pieces during an open studio event, “Platform,” at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Held three times a year, the series features the artists who come to SFAI for its themed residencies each year: Labor, in the case of 2020.

For Scibelli, also an art educator who has taught fashion design for the past decade, she intends her project “Garb” to highlight the fashion industry’s less seemly aspects. She designs each piece as a simple geometric shape made from natural materials that can be worn in myriad ways.

“The idea is it would be a capsule wardrobe and you shouldn’t need anything else,” Scibelli says. “There’s so much waste in the fashion industry. If we never made another piece of clothing, we wouldn’t run out. Nobody would go naked.”

As Scibelli describes “Garb,” SFAI’s rooms buzz with residents, staff and visitors peeking at works in progress and meeting the artists behind them. Occasionally, new entrants usher in gusts of cold air. Barely 6 pm, it might as well be midnight. Late winter Santa Fe: a cold, dark evening on a mostly abandoned campus. Back inside, Scibelli—who came from the East Coast for the residency—expresses enthusiasm about being in Santa Fe, but adds: “This campus is so bizarre. It’s kind of abandoned but there’s still a lot of activity. There’s skunks and a coyote and I saw an owl.”

At the time—Feb. 21, to be exact—SFAI staff and leadership knew well the challenges SFAI’s location on a mostly abandoned campus presented for the institution. Addressing them and heightening its public presence and local identity through public events was one of the organization’s top priorities, along with a host of other ambitious schemes to commemorate its 35th year.

By April, SFAI’s residents had disbursed to homes around the globe as the pandemic sent New Mexico—and most of the world—into lockdown. Shortly thereafter, SFAI altered its plans for the foreseeable future: Annual artist residencies won’t resume on site until next year. Two international alumni travel programs to Greece and Columbia were postponed indefinitely. Ditto for on-site public programs.

Yet while COVID-19 has created logistical and fundraising challenges, the concomitant emphasis it has placed on social and racial justice issues is providing SFAI the opportunity to spotlight and magnify the work the organization—and its artists—have been doing for years. This year’s theme of labor has taken on heightened resonance as the entire nature of work drastically shifts. Past year’s themes examining truth and reconciliation; food justice; equal justice; and immigration and emigration have also only increased in relevance.

“This moment, specifically the awakening around the racial issues and inequities and Black Lives Matter as a movement that’s front and center, is not new work to our artists or to the art institute,” SFAI Board member Edie Dillman says, pointing as just one example to the curated online collection of anti-racism talks by former residents through SFAI’s 140 lecture series. But having a “captive activated audience,” as Dillman describes it, has spurred new initiatives. SFAI has launched online programming for its labor residency artists, its alumni, Instagram takeovers and a podcast homed in on social justice issues.

At the same time, SFAI continues work through a National Endowment for the Arts grant to map cultural assets in the area as part of the Midtown Campus development in the hopes of shaping its future to also emphasize the importance of art and community.

As for that 35th anniversary: “It definitely feels a little bit thwarted,” SFAI Executive Director Jamie Blosser says. “I mean, we were going to have a huge event; it certainly doesn’t feel like a very celebratory year.” On the other hand, the events of the last five months have created a moment “where we can actually be responsive and continue to deepen the conversations we’re already having and spotlight and amplify as much as we can the artists we’re already supporting.”

Those conversations among artists working at the intersections of art and activism constitute the core to SFAI’s mission, if not—perhaps—its original vision.

As my gender makes it inappropriate to refer to me as a ‘master’ artist, and my values make me recoil at the very term, I will not be giving a ‘master class.’ Rather, I will offer a one-month workshop where participants can explore their own personal subject matter through a collaborative project, which I will facilitate. At the end of the workshop, participants will share their work with the public in order to find out if their personal and esthetic interests relate to anything in the larger world. —Judy Chicago, Feb. 24, 1986

SFAI’s 17,000-square-foot building was designed by renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.

Originally named the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts, SFAI was founded in 1985 by arts patron Pony Ault along with architect and artist William Lumpkins, with the idea of bringing renowned artists to Santa Fe to teach in residence. Prior to its opening, a February 1985 Santa Fe New Mexican article described the as-yet-opened school as one that promised to be “Santa Fe’s most substantial private art academy” and quoted Lumpkins saying “the thrust of the school is to bring in and recruit from the local group of artists at least 10 outstanding teachers to give master classes each year.” He said organizers had “hosted a party for several noted artists on the East Coast who indicated they would be willing to come and teach classes: “They would love to come out for a month,” he said. “Everybody loves Santa Fe.”

While those early years leaned more toward fine arts and established practitioners, from the get-go some pushed against notions of hierarchy, such as Judy Chicago, whose criticism of the “master class” nomenclature SFAI quotes in its online history of the institute.

For more than a decade, SFAI hosted artists in changing locations around town, until the end of the 1990s when notable arts benefactors John and Anne Marion forged a connection between SFAI and the College of Santa Fe: CSF agreed to host SFAI on the school campus in exchange for help in building “world-class art facilities for the College.” Renowned Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta was hired to design the Visual Arts Complex, including SFAI’s building. An October 1997 story in this paper discussing the proposal noted “now that it will have its own home on the College of Santa Fe campus, the little-known Santa Fe Art Institute…has plans to raise its profile. It will be able to bring in more visiting artists, increase its collaboration with other schools and expand opportunities in its programs for emerging artists.”

That particular story focused on the sudden expansion of arts education across the city, querying whether Santa Fe could actually support multiple art schools and, moreover, what role arts education might play in addressing the insularity of the art world.

“‘It’s about me, me, me,'” then SFAI Director Kerry Benson said. ‘Who cares if there’s an audience? There’s no social responsibility any more. Society has become disengaged from the arts.’ Benson said she hopes to change that through symposiums and lectures. ‘I want people to start having a dialogue about why we have art and what happened in our society to alienate people from it,’ she said.”

Such dialogue would only intensify as the 1990s ended and the new millennium began.

Black lives and black art often exist in spaces of contradiction. Again, and again, we Black artists mine the themes of racism and racialism; pain and suffering; sorrow and joy; abjection and righteousness; invisibility and hyper surveillance; marginality and humanity; confinement and freedom; and justice of resistance; duality and singularity; erasure and representation; problem and possibility. The list goes on. And yet each of us does so in a novel and original way. —Elizabeth Burden, SFAI Truth and Reconciliation fellow, July 15, 2020

SFAI’s residency program has evolved over the years, with an inflection point in 2001 when former Executive Director Diane Karp created an Emergency Relief Residency for artists impacted by 9/11 Thereafter, it offered residencies to creators displaced by hurricanes and other natural disasters. When Sanjit Sethi took over as executive director in 2013, he explicitly created the themed residencies and their connection to social justice issues. Seven years later, the artists—approximately 70 each year coming for one to three-month stints—are spread across the globe. The program has evolved to include not just visual artists, but people working in a multitude of areas, including writing, design, education, humanities and the social sciences.

Two weeks ago, SFAI launched the first of what will be ongoing online discussions and events for such past fellows. “Conversations: Unprecedented (Again)” on July 15 featured alumni artists Veronica Jackson and Christopher Kojzar in conversation with artist-moderator Elizabeth Burden regarding work of theirs that resonates in this moment.

“Language of Invisibility on Display,” 2017 by Veronica Jackson: Felt bulletin board, plastic letters, alum frame

Jackson, part of the 2017/2018 Equal Justice residency cohort, shared the backstory for “Language of Invisibility on Display,”—the time a white man navigated around her in line at Whole Foods as if she wasn’t there, insisting, in fact, she hadn’t been when Jackson confronted him. As she describes the piece in her artist’s statement, four bulletin boards illustrate “various phrases that represent the invisibility enacted upon my being throughout the years. The black letters on the black felt evoke the concept of not being rendered legible while the signboards’ format visually announces that a message exists and is ready to be communicated.”

Before discussing her art making, Jackson acknowledged SFAI’s role in her work.

“SFAI is the place where I first started making art, where I recognized that I was an artist,” she said. “They gave me the jump start for my visual art-making practice. I will always be indebted to this institution. It is the reason why residencies should exist. They nurture artists and for me they birthed an artist.”

SFAI’s new monthly podcast “Tilt” also launched last month. For its first episode, “Calling In: How White People Can Join the Fight for Racial Justice,” SFAI Residency Director Toni Gentilli moderated a conversation between Labor alumna Lori Waselchuk, Equal Justice alumna Ann Lewis and Truth and Reconciliation alumna Sara Konrath about their creative practices and relationships to social and racial justice.

“SILENCED for Breonna,” 2020 by Veronica Jackson – Face mask, silver and gold glitter alphabet stickers, black tape

Documentary photographer Waselchuk has an ongoing body of work she’s collaborated on for the last seven years alongside block captains in Philadelphia who act as stewards for their neighborhoods. Multidisciplinary artist Lewis focuses on criminal justice reform. For example, her 2016 project “…and counting,” documented every police-related death in the United States via toe tags on which Lewis wrote out each individual’s story. Social psychologist Konrath directs the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research. “The topic of empathy matters when it comes to social justice because people who are able to have more empathy for others tend to actually have less prejudice,” Konrath explained. All the podcast participants donated their $450 SFAI stipends to nonprofits working on various anti-racist endeavors.

Since May, SFAI has been turning over its Instagram feed to former alumni. Food and Justice alumnus Hakim Bellamy (Albuquerque’s former poet laureate) took over the feed July 29 in a series of posts discussing his work and the moment at hand. “I don’t believe art is ever really divorced from your real lived experience in your community,” he said during one. “My particular constellation of blackness—because stars are generally set in a sea of black—has been very much aligned with these various different iterations of the Black Lives Movement.”

Putting its artists front and center came about—as all decisions seem to at SFAI—through deep conversation. In the aftermath of the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in late May and Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country and world, many organizations came forward in solidarity for the movement. SFAI wanted to do more.

“Being on the board at SFAI, one of the privileges is they often have so much to teach me and remind me about,” Zane Fischer says. “When this movement really began this year, the response from SFAI’s leadership and its staff wasn’t, ‘oh give us validation because we’re already been doing this work.’ They said, ‘how can we make sure we’re really truly supporting this work?’ So their first action was to reach out into the broader national community and to double-down on anti-racist training for the staff and to figure out how they could work even harder to make themselves be explicitly an anti-racist organization.”

Residency Director Gentilli, who normally would be working face-to-face with the residents as they arrive throughout the year, shifted all the resources online, setting up an online hub where fellows can communicate, and providing online discussions and programming. Gentilli, herself an artist, anthropologist and curator, says she’s always held a curatorial role by organizing public programs and exhibitions at SFAI’s facilities. Staff had often talked about launching more online programming in the past but lacked capacity to do so at scale. The pandemic, she notes, “provided us this beautiful moment to finally launch these explorations through these different media.”

Artists, during their residencies, have living and studio space at SFAI.

And then there’s the logistics: rescheduling all the Labor residents who would have come in 2020, who will now come in 2021, and providing support as people navigate the current situation.

“Everyone is experiencing this moment really differently,” Gentilli says. “Some are finding the challenges and restraints to be extremely generative and are making work like crazy. Other people are overwhelmed with all of the social issues we’re all juggling right now.” Some, she says, are dealing with health issues, others with financial issues as exhibitions and other work opportunities are canceled. “Some are being asked to rethink how they teach and balancing at-home childcare if not homeschooling along with work.” The upshot, she says, is the current climate has created “this period of reflection for asking: What is the role of creating art in this moment? What can I do as an artist that is meaningful in response to everything I’m personally experiencing, our family is experiencing, our larger society is experiencing?”

Executive Director Blosser says situating SFAI into the larger national and international dialogue happening around these issues dovetails well into the organization’s identity. “We’ve always felt we are a little bit more known in the national and international community than we are locally,” she says, “so it is fulfilling to have that as a larger dialogue and that is something that is easier to do virtually.”

Yet while SFAI has taken the physical distancing requirements as an opportunity to beef up its virtual outreach, its focus also remains on what has emerged in the last few years as its greatest challenge and, of course, opportunity: the Midtown campus.

It’s a good thing to call for investment in the people and organizations affected by COVID-19. Clearly, artists and arts organizations have been significantly affected, as almost every form of artistic creation is generated or completed by gathering in groups… But the argument, as usual, is being framed in the same old narrowly economistic terms, continuing the fiction that culture must be justified as a generator of capital in a society in which the only things that count are those that can be counted. — Arlene Goldbard, “Arts and Culture: If This Doesn’t Wake Up Establishment Arts, What Will?”

When Blosser came on board as executive director at the start of 2016—after working on an interim basis during part of the prior year—the move was both a career change and a homecoming. A licensed architect, Blosser shifted to the nonprofit world after completing a Loeb Fellowship in 2015 at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she focused on equity, resilience and global urbanization’s impact on rural communities. That year provided time for Blosser to ponder her next moves after more than 20 years of working as an architect in New Mexico with a primary focus on Native American communities and affordable housing. That work had included time as a project manager for the Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority, where she remains a board member, and had led her to found the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative (where she also remains a board member). By 2015, Blosser was an associate at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects and, she says, at a crossroads.

“The Loeb Fellowship was a great opportunity to take some time off and decide which pathway: Do I really want to do the sustainable Native collaborative work and really invest in it? Or do I really want to invest and deepen further with AOS? And then I decided I wanted a completely different thing.”

Without knowing what direction that would take, she says, “I wanted to have the opportunity to look at issues in a completely different framework. I was focusing on equity and resilience in rural communities during the Loeb year and really thought my next path would be something in that and possibly even policy, but I’m not a policy person. I’m an architect and more of a creative.”

Blosser had joined the SFAI board and her fellow board members and outgoing Executive Director Sethi approached her about taking it over. At first, she told them, “you’re crazy.” But after having conversations with her “national community…I ended up coming back to it because I realized it did parallel in a really significant way” the work she wanted to do: supporting creative “and artistic expression…in service of something larger.”

And, it turned out, her work as an architect, project manager and lead in community engagement work would come in handy. Just a year and a half or so after she came on board, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, with which SFAI shared a campus, announced it was closing.

While Blosser was relatively new to SFAI at the time, her relationship with its Visual Arts complex—of which SFAI’s 17,000-square-foot building is part—stretched back to its inception, when she was an intern with the architecture firm of record for the project: Lloyd and Tryk Architects.

SFAI Executive Director Jamie Blosser began her position full-time in January, 2016

The original vision of collaborative work between first SFAI and the College of Santa Fe and then SFUAD had never truly materialized, Blosser says, and public confusion about SFAI—was it part of the college? was it a college itself?—had persisted over the years. SFUAD’s announced closure in Spring, 2017 only increased the identity crisis.

“The morale at that time just plummeted,” Blosser says. “People started walking into our building and saying, ‘I thought you guys were closed.'” The disruptions on campus impacted SFAI on a daily basis. “We were fielding random things all the time, and it’s really hard to push the awesome programming you’re doing when you’re fielding negative or confused queries constantly.”

With the campus’ future uncertain, Blosser jumped in. “I literally stuck my foot into every possible place I could step it,” she says. The city contracted with SFAI to shepherd a selection committee reviewing the various architectural visions for the project (disclaimer: This writer served on that committee in her former capacity as a SFUAD faculty member, although she has little memory of it). By the summer of 2018, the City of Santa Fe had taken over the 64-acre initiative that would come to be known as Midtown Santa Fe.

As a former Harvard Loeb fellow, Blosser applied for and received a Loeb Alumni grant that year to bring other Loeb fellows from around the country with development, planning and real estate finance backgrounds that summer to tour the site, meet with Santa Fe city councilors and Mayor Alan Webber and present recommendations. One of those fellows, Daniel Hernandez, with whom Blosser had worked previously on an Ohkay Owingeh project, eventually became the city’s project manager. SFAI was part of two of the three finalist teams for the project’s development, and one of the organizations collaborating with the chosen developer: KDC Real Estate Development & Investments/Cienda Partners.

SFAI also is part of the Midtown Arts Alliance, a coalition proposing use of the existing visual arts facilities as a hub for multi-disciplinary, multi-genre arts and arts activism. Additionally, through a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, SFAI and Midtown Arts Alliance partners at the University of New Mexico and Littleglobe are working on an extension of the city’s Culture Connects project to map the cultural assets of the area “in order to better identify how investment in local artists and regional Indigenous and Hispanic/Chicano/Latinx cultures and communities can help to connecting regional arts, culture, and creative sectors with economic and leadership opportunities that do not rely primarily on the tourist market,” according to a description of the project on SFAI’s website. Two fellows from SFAI’s Story Maps Fellowship program are working on that project. That program, which SFAI launched in 2018, pairs local artists who identify as Indigenous, Black or people of color on projects with government or other non-arts organizations.

“It’s just been a really beautiful dialogue between these artists and culture bearers and historians and storytellers about ways we can engage the local community, ways that we celebrate neighborhoods around Midtown, ways that we can start to reach out to faculty and students and celebrate these stories and memories about belonging to really impact what the future of the district could be,” Blossser says. The project, which she describes as “full steam ahead” feels like a way “to really spin the imagination out into what it could be, rather than continuing to feel like this isolated space in the middle of Midtown.”

For now, though, SFAI’s building remains quiet. In mid-March, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued her first COVID-19 public health emergency order, Blosser, her staff and all the residents gathered together to start making decisions. Staff began working from home. The residents—some international—either hunkered down or made plans, some of them complicated, to go home.

SFAI 2020 Labor resident Stacy Scibelli remained on campus making masks when New Mexico shut down for COVID-19.

Designer Stacy Scibelli ended up the last to leave, staying on the now entirely deserted campus making masks, which were then donated to local organizations. “It was pretty surreal,” she says, reached by phone, driving in Massachusetts. “It was kind of the perfect place to quarantine.”

Since then, SFAI secured an $87,000 Paycheck Protection Loan, but Blossser acknowledges, “like every art organization, [the pandemic is] hugely impacting our ability to fundraise. I’m actually really worried about next year.”

But, fittingly, the events have also prompted deep thinking about the nature of arts funding in general. Citing a recent essay by Arlene Goldbard that looks critically at the need to constantly economically justify funding the arts, Blosser says the current climate provides an opportunity to double-down on the importance of arts outside of those fiscal justifications.

“Artists are going to have to be the ones that tell the story about this time and help us reframe what the future is,” she says. “Especially with the kind of work we do and we are so inspired by and the impact it really does have on the narratives within which we as a society place ourselves—and the necessary changes to those narratives. We have to rely on the work of artists for all of that to really understand our own humanity and understand new directions we can head in.”

For the first time in many years, SFAI won’t open applications for residencies this January. Instead, the rescheduled labor residents will return in 2021. The residents who would have come in 2021 have been pushed to 2022. The theme for that year?


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