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With remarkable speed and a mostly seamless transition, Evanston arts groups have moved from in-studio to online lessons and classes. Most went dark the second or third week of March but by mid-April were back up and running with Zoom or Instagram connections between teachers and students.
Dance Center Evanston shut down classes at its studio at 1934 Dempster St. in mid-March and went online several weeks later. The 26-year-old organization is now offering 64 live online classes as well as 80 pre-recorded classes – from “Tippy Toes” for very young students to Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Tap and Hip-Hop.
About 75% of its 700 regular students joined online classes, said DCE founder and Director Béa Rashid. While it is wonderful that people can resume their dance classes, Ms. Rashid said, it can be a challenge to direct them in their sometimes-confined home spaces, such as a living room or bedroom. Nevertheless, she added, “It’s so gratifying to see their faces and engage with them live. The students are so positive to be able to continue.”
Ms. Rashid said DCE is exploring a number of possibilities for the summer, including limited enrollment at the studio. “We will be offering a virtual version of our ‘Passport to Dance’ program and pop-up outdoor workshops,” she said.
“We’re all very, very anxious to be back together,” she added. “But the health and safety of our students, teachers and their families must be a priority and under constant consideration.”
A number of past DCE programs are available for viewing online.
Ms. Rashid’s husband, Steve, operates Studio5, a music and theater performance space located in DCE’s studio. He said live concerts were canceled in March but video and audio recordings continue to be available online. Live jazz performances will be broadcast online beginning June 16 from the studio but without a live audience. The schedule of times and ensembles will be posted online.
At The Actors Gymnasium, classes moved online as of March 30. The Evanston-based arts organization, which was co-founded in 1995 by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (the current Artistic Director), specializes in circus and theater arts, and currently offers a total of 27 classes Mondays through Saturdays. These include Aerial Anatomy, Parent-Tot Gymnastics, Mime, Clown, Puppetry and Circus Fitness.
Of some 350 students, almost half have made the transition online, said Marketing and Operations Manager John MacGaffey. “The silver lining is we now have students joining us from as far away as California and Jerusalem,” he said.
“We’ve tried to remain consistent in our programming while being flexible given the constraints of working online,” he said. He added that for the vast majority of students and their parents, “the feedback has been extremely positive. The kids can see their circus friends and enjoy some semblance of normalcy and structure and get much-needed physical activity.”
Mr. MacGaffey added online classes will continue throughout the summer, and in-person classes will be re-introduced as soon as possible, all of which will be included in a new unlimited-classes subscription. “We’re also offering our annual Summer Intensive program,” he said. “And we’re looking forward to announcing new socially distanced, in-person and online camp options soon.”
At the Music Institute of Chicago, which was founded in 1921 and has 182 teachers at campuses in Evanston, Winnetka, Lake Forest, Downers Grove, Lincolnshire and Chicago, all but a handful of the 1,600 students shifted from in-person to online lessons following the advent of the pandemic in March.
“We made a quick and smooth transition to online teaching,” said Mark George, MIC’s president and CEO. “We will resume in-person teaching when it’s safe, but in the meantime, we plan to invest in technology and continue to expand our musical community beyond the Chicago area.”
Emily Abraham, Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs, said MIC faculty have taught more than 20,000 hours of lessons online since March. Virtual student recitals are broadcast at least three times a week. “They’re extremely popular,” she said. “Students are practicing more due to their reduced extracurricular activities. Parents report that kids appreciate seeing the familiar face of their teacher every week and being able to continue the routine of practicing and taking lessons.”
MIC is also offering “Indoor Voices,” a free weekly series of online “house calls” with musicians and special guests who have performed in or helped shape the legacy of Nichols Concert Hall, MIC’s Evanston performance and studio space at 1490 Chicago Ave.
Prior to the pandemic, the Evanston facility had some 325 students taking private lessons and 120 in group classes.
The Evanston Art Center is offering a wide variety of classes online, including Painting and Drawing, Pen and Ink, Art History and Mixed Media for Kids. “People seem to really love it. We’re trying to make it simple and fun for everyone,” said President and CEO Paula Danoff.
The EAC was started in 1929, originally in the library, then moved to a studio on Greenleaf Street near Chicago Avenue before settling into the Harley Clarke mansion in 1966. It has been at its current 20,000-square-foot space at 1717 Central St. since 2015.
Ms. Danoff said some 165 adults and 30 students are currently enrolled online. “It’s exciting that so many faculty and students joined in,” she said.
Some 90 online classes will be available this summer. Sessions run from June 15 to July 26 and July 27 to Sept. 6.