Emily Hartlerode from the Oregon Folklife Network recently contacted WACAI to ask about how “traditional artists are adapting to virtual transmission during the shutdowns of the COVID-19 Pandemic?” WACAI had an excellent response to their very first Zoom 5 week drum course, but weighed in on some of the unseen challenges this transition to a virtual platform can bring to traditional artists.
One factor that has made the transition from in-person classes to an online version a little smoother is that everyone who registered is either a returning student who has experienced our classes vis-à-vis before or people we know from the community, so students can approximate or draw from our previous face-to-face contact as they study online. This is something that brand-new students just simply cannot do which makes engaging new students a little challenging because of the limited version that this virtual experience brings.
There are many ambient factors that occur in the in-person format that are very difficult, if not impossible to replicate in the online version. Take energy and spirit, for example. There is something powerful and palatable about being in the presence of traditional, source artists when they are teaching and working that doesn’t always come through when one is looking at a screen, experiencing delays due to poor internet connection, and sub-par sound due to the limitations of audio options on laptops and other devices. An online platform can also make it much harder for non-native English speaking artists to be as clearly understood as when being instructed in the flesh.
Another factor that has helped make the transition to a digital platform smoother is having organizational support. Being able to learn a new digital platform, create publicity and marketing that highlights benefits of this platform, and teach, train, and do test runs with students of all different ages who have never used these platforms before really takes a lot of organizational capacity, technical savoir-faire, English language skills, and time.
It is now more important than ever that traditional, source artists receive the support they need to not only feed their families here in the US and in their home countries, but to help them keep their art forms alive on virtual platforms so that they can continue to uplift and be uplifted.