Katie Blake took the necessary precautions as the number of cases of COVID-19 began to increase across Missouri last week.

She stocked up on household staples with one addition.

"I made sure to stock up on extra canvasses," she said.

Blake is a local painter and photographer. Like many Columbia residents, Blake’s life now consists entirely of her office and her home. But luckily for Blake, home is where the studio is.

Before last week, Blake had had an unfinished canvas sitting in her studio for months. Then local leaders started encouraging residents to stay indoors. Since then, she’s finished that canvas.

And started another.

"I haven’t been able to do too much (art) lately," Blake said. "… which is why it’s nice because now there is time to just sit at home and work on stuff."

Blake paints mostly landscapes. The piece she just finished is a scene from a friend’s property in Jamestown. Blake’s subject matter is ironic as most Missourians prepare for what could be weeks or months spent mostly indoors.

"We can go outside hiking and stuff as long as we are keeping our distance and everything, but we are still stuck at home for the most part," Blake said. "I do a lot of Midwestern scenes. I think the Midwest, there is this idea of it that there is not much there. But I think it’s beautiful."

Blake is not the only local artist who sees beauty in Missouri’s empty spaces. Eryn Trudell, who splits her time between Columbia and Jefferson City, was also working on a landscape when preparations against COVID-19 turned urgent. Her piece is of a scene most Missourians would recognize – farmland in the warm, lazy light of a Midwest summer.

Trudell is used to managing large swaths of unaccounted for time. After college, she struggled to find a job. However, this time, she says there is a sort of solidarity to the solitude.

"Now everyone has to be at home trying to reach … the small things you take for granted," she said. "Those things you pass by every single day, because who knows."

She says she’s optimistic about the effect this collective distancing could have on local artists. Not only do coronavirus-related closures offer artists more time, but they redefine the time artists already had.

"Everything is totally shutting down, and it’s really honestly scary but I do think it’s giving everyone fresh eyes in a way," Trudell said. "Everyone is seeing everything differently."

This sense of inspiration is exciting some local artists who say that when the COVID-19 outbreak passes, Columbia residents will have a large body of local artwork to greet them from their isolation.

"Creatively I think there is going to be a huge boom of just artists making content because there is a lot of stuff to work through right now," local digital artist and painter Adrienne Luther said.

However, even as artists busy themselves, opportunities to sell their art are disappearing. Local gallery owners like Lisa Bartlett, of Artlandish Gallery in downtown’s North Village Art District, have had to close shop in light of mandates against crowd sizes.

She’s launching Artlandish’s first online sales gallery in hopes of keeping residents connected to local art.

But, she says, the experience is not the same. However art is created, whether alone or in the company of other artists, afterwards it’s supposed to be seen, enjoyed, maybe even sold.

"Sales of my art aren’t a huge reason why I do it," Bartlett, who is a painter and also works with assemblage. "I kind of do it because I have to. The thing is though, I’m not interested in having a museum of my artwork, but I am interested in having my art out to the masses so anyway that can be done is good."

For now, that’s the internet. Bartlett also serves on the North Village Art District board of directors, which decided March 15 to suspend its monthly First Friday art walk event indefinitely.

Closures are also encouraging other local artists to further develop their online presence.

"That’s definitely a natural way for it to go," digital designer and cartoonist Ben Stokes said. "It’s not the same experience as First Friday … part of that whole experience is the people. It’s tough to handle right now, but it’s something we all have to come together and do."

Stokes said his art hasn’t really changed in the last week. He still draws science fiction comics and produces an animated podcast. His work has always been about escape, but now, that escape feels more important.

"If other people see (my comics), and other people can get ten, fifteen minutes of their mind somewhere else, that kind of helps too," he said.

With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know when Columbia’s next First Friday will be or what will look like. Will hundreds of local residents embrace the ability to socialize and flock to the event, greeted by dozens of new art pieces created in solitude? Or will it be more of a trickle? A slow, but steady return to normal.

No one can say. So, for now Columbia artists are busying themselves with the work at hand, offering escape and finding beauty in Missouri’s empty spaces until those spaces can be filled again.

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