Marin Youth Are Reviving the Arts During COVID-19

For a high energy, adventurous, creative teen or a young adult, being socially and artistically starved during quarantine can feel nightmarish. As a twenty-year-old university senior, I’ve kept cabin fever away by writing a fantastical fiction series and sorely attempting amateur photography under my mother, the professional photographer’s, watchful eye. As I sat editing and re-editing my book Artemis and Caspian: The Awakening for lack of better things to do, I wondered how other artists I shared the stage with in childhood were handling themselves during the shelter-in-place order. If they were anything like me, they cried themselves to sleep the night Broadway closed its doors until 2021. How were they performing with all the theaters closed down? More significantly, how were artists in general staying vital during this insane time of social blackout? Through many penpal letters I decided to start writing, and bits and pieces of people’s lives came trickling through. The more I reached out to young artists here in Marin, the more people seemed eager to talk about how they’re keeping a creative spark alive in a world riddled with immense doubt. 

Sea Dragon illustration
“Leafy Sea-Dragon” by Nicole Anisgard Parra

The picture above is done by local artist Nicole Anisgard Parra. She reaches her growing fanbase through Instagram live @faunaparra, holding sessions where she draws or paints and answers her followers’ eager questions. You can also find her on Twitter by the same name, posting her art and communicating with other artists over their shared interest. She says this about keeping busy during the pandemic: “My long-term projects at the moment are improving on my illustration skills as a whole and settling into a groove of what I actually want to be creating! I’m a big fan of visual storytelling so I want to explore that more as well, first by improving my concept work, and then also looking for inspiration for stories to tell.”

Fortunately, she is not alone. As a young artist making the best of things in Marin, I also got to catch up with an old friend Lucy Mutunga about her newly founded YouTube channel, Lulukay254. The channel so far consists of delicious Kenyan food recipes and introduction videos meant to introduce viewers to the creator. With her channel she hopes to “inspire people and show people the life of a Kenyan-American,” she says. “Lately, I have been trying to find a bigger audience, but good things don’t come easy. So I’m slowly getting ideas together and asking people on my Instagram to vote on what they might be interested in. It’s just a way of relieving stress and actually keeping busy.” It was refreshing to see her using food and fashion to inspire others through YouTube while getting a taste of Kenyan culture. In the future, she hopes to post more fashion content and lifestyle updates as she travels through nursing school. 

Grant Harrington (guitar), Maddy Toy (vocals), Elliot Jacobs (bass/producer) and Jeffrey Scott (drums) in the band Leo Blue.

The biggest community I found was the music community here in Marin. Many young musicians used to performing in concert venues were forced to adjust how they reached their audiences in the time of COVID-19. I spoke to Grant Harrington from the band Leo Blue about music during the pandemic: “Right now we’re putting together a demo to send out to some labels, and we’re really excited about the latest tracks we’ve been putting together. Luckily quarantine hasn’t stopped us from collaboratingm as I can record tracks from Rohnert Park and send them over to our producer/bass player Elliot Jacobs.”

To reach their audience, the band prefers Instagram, @Leoblue_band, but has also found success on music streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. Folk musician John L. Gambon concurs that streaming services are a great way to reach audiences: “I use Instagram and Facebook mostly to reach whatever small audience I may have,” he says. He keeps his art alive by recording small singles and EPs. “I do have an album in the works with a band and solo,” he says. “I’m doing what I’ve always done. Just me and a guitar… I’m trying to keep it simple like how folk was.” It seems that in the modern age, music can still flourish within our community no matter how distanced coronavirus forces us to be. 

Emma Spike-Neaman

Musician Camille Rose, who creates music to bring awareness and positive impact to the type 1 diabetes community, has had success collaborating during quarantine with neighbor Jacob Ben-Shmuel. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she explains that she’s “tackled old ideas and finished them, I’ve started new song projects and loved them, and ultimately, I have expanded farther than I thought I could within the confines of my bedroom walls. Although I will admit, performing is what feeds the soul, and not being able to do so has been quite a rough adjustment. I try to use this time to not focus on what I wish I was doing, but preparing for when the world opens up again.”

Musician and actress Emma Spike-Neaman has been performing a series called “Music Mondays” on her Instagram account @emma_spike_neaman but has paused the project with the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Music Mondays is where I put out a cover or an original song mainly to be creating without any kind of intention or purpose in mind, just putting it out there and letting it sit on Instagram,” she says. “I really try to be conscious about what I put on social media because I want to step back and listen to other voices while still trying to value my own artistic voice. I’m trying to figure out a way to support those artists while still expressing my creativity.” I commend her self reflection in light of the current social justice situation and hope that others have also taken the time to listen to BIPOC voices in the community. 

Tam High’s One Act Festival Podcast produced by rising senior Dakota Fox.

While the music scene in Marin continuing to be vibrant in the face of COVID-19, I wondered about other performing arts. With theaters shut down until further notice, I wondered how fellow actors and dancers were continuing to produce their art. I reached out to my friend Sienna Siciliano, president of the Drama Club at College of Marin, to see what my old theater community there was doing to keep acting present in the county. The club meets weekly over Zoom, she explains. “Our main goal is to create a space where everyone can feel safe to express their creativity during these tough times. The online platform has given us the opportunity to stay connected during self isolation and prepare our craft for when theaters reopen.” With College of Marin going almost completely online in the fall, the club hopes to continue their work in the community with events like Zoom pumpkin carving and resumed workshops to lift spirits. My Tam High School alma mater drama department, the Conservatory Theatre Ensemble — lovingly shortened to CTE — has also kept busy to keep the arts alive in Marin. When the semester went online because of the pandemic, rising senior Dakota Fox translated the program’s annual spring One Act Festival into a podcast. The podcast consists of 29 episodes, student-written and directed by 39 directors and 132 actors. It is still available and streaming on all major streaming platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and others, keeping an important and exciting tradition alive during the nationwide theater shutdown. The One Act Festival was founded by students, created by students and produced by students. It makes me a proud alum to know that students have once again taken the initiative to continue their festival in the face of the current world crisis.

Maxine Flasher-Düzgüneş preforming for the project “isle of januaries”

Local dancer and poet Maxine Flasher-Düzgüneş has also kept herself busy with various artistic projects to help the struggling Marin Community through quarantine. Recently she published her first novella titled through Eileen, which was launched online with a donation to Mill Valley’s little free libraries, residential libraries located on public streets to keep the literary word alive. She also started a project on Instagram in May called 500 days of summer which was a dance series paired with poetry dedicated to all the things she missed about life before the virus. It can be found on her Instagram @poeticabythebay. The project has stalled for the moment, but Maxine says this about its future: “The project stalled upon the end of the shelter-in-place and the beginning of my latest video-dance project entitled ‘isle of januaries’ which I am editing alongside my collaborator, Hiroka Nagai, for Digital Showcase: August Edition at SAFEhouse Arts, a community art space in San Francisco. This film compiles footage of the both of us in the Marin Headlands (January 2020) and a recent poem on the effects of nostalgia on the body. I’m grateful I was able to explore with video before beginning this project, as it really shed light on how well dance is received upon the accompaniment of language, and vice versa.” She took the concept a step further to inspire the youth through a project called The Writer’s Nest after writing a college thesis “on using this poetry technique called erasure as a kind of movement score.” The project, founded by Karen Benke, has Maxine teaching young students how to combine poetry with dance.  

Connect in Place Graphic by Phi Diep.

Marin native Danielle Egan used her spare time to co-create a program called Connect In Place with peer Saumya Goyal, a free, virtual summer camp intended to keep kids mentally stimulated and engaged during COVID-19. She praised her operations team: Meghan Chau Cruz, Kevin Wu, Lauren Yang, Israel Garcia Ceballos, Varya Fayner, Victoria Brendel, Sukh Kaur and Phi Diep, creator of Connect In Place’s graphic design as seen above, for all their hard work. All donations made by grateful parents go towards helping low-income students afford essential laptops and school supplies with a suggested donation starting at $10 a week for classes. Classes are offered to middle and high schoolers and are taught by college students. They range in a variety of subjects from “Neuroscience 101” to “Hip-Hop Dance: Intro to Culture and Movement.” The program hopes to create a safe environment for students to cope with the mental and emotional stress that comes with sheltering-in-place. So far the team has recruited 150 instructors and 2200 kids across both sessions of classes, and Egan expects that number to rise. She had this to say about the founding of the project: “I’m a part of Cal Create and Project Smile at UC Berkeley, where I taught and mentored kids. During this time everyone is feeling disconnected and bored — it must be hitting kids even harder.” She described discussing the project while she was bored at home with Saumya, who was immediately interested. Saumya says: “I’m personally really passionate about education and nonprofits. My mother and my grandmother grew up in India not learning how to read or write. In high school, I led an initiative to open three schools in India. I’m super passionate about education so that’s why I wanted to get involved with Connect In Place. The project aligned with my personal goals and values really well.”

“The Smallest Hero” by Nicole Anisgard Parra

With all the projects spearheaded in Marin by our young adult community, there is no doubt in my mind that all forms of artistic expression are still alive and well in the county. As many acting professors of mine have quoted throughout my career, “Art imitates life.” It seems that this is so. Art continues to evolve with the current pandemic and reflects all the uncertainty our community is feeling, but art also brings hope. President Sienna Siciliano of College of Marin’s Drama Club puts it perfectly: “COVID-19 will not stop us from sharing our art and staying connected.” After talking with these individuals about their creative projects, I have hope that music, art, theatre, writing, dance and all other forms of creative expression will survive and continue to inspire and reflect the human condition worldwide — today and for many years to come, in the post-coronavirus life we all yearn for. 

How to Help During COVID-19

There are so many deserving nonprofits that need your help right now. For more organizations to support, check out the nonprofits here or GoFundMe, where they’re matching donations on Giving Tuesday Now for select charities.

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