by Beverly Aarons
We didn’t see it coming: not the pandemic, not the emptied downtown streets, not the employee layoffs and certainly not the large slabs of wood covering closed storefronts and shuttered restaurants. When it became apparent that COVID-19 was becoming the wolf on our doorstep, everyone at the Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts in Pioneer Square had one question: how do we support each other during this difficult time? We wanted to be responsible to ourselves and to each other, be safe in our homes and figure out how we would all survive together. Many of us lost employment suddenly, and for the foreseeable future, and others are elderly or immunocompromised.
Once I realized that the novel coronavirus posed a serious threat to our community I called a meeting and around 10 people showed up. Before the meeting, I spaced the chairs six feet apart and every attendee took extra care to maintain physical distance as we discussed the threats and our options. The most pressing concern for some artists in our community was the ability to pay rent. Would unemployed artists face eviction or large back rent debts with late fees? Others worried about the common areas and high-touch points such as the front door and the laundry room. How often would those areas be cleaned and how well? What would we do if someone living in the building got sick? Should that person tell us? Some people were concerned about fellow artist community members’ ability to access healthy food. Many volunteered to donate to or do runs for our in-residence food bank.
There were a lot of suggestions, and more than a few conflicts about which solutions were best, but what struck me as inspiring and, quite frankly, soothing was that we are a community with enough of a foundation of trust and camaraderie built during good times to come together during a crisis. I had never lived anywhere like this and wondered what makes this community work the way it does?
I’ve identified three core values many of our community members live by every day that makes this artists’ community especially equipped to survive COVID-19, or just about any other crisis the world may throw at us.
Support for the Most Vulnerable
The artists at Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts didn’t wait until a crisis emerged to support our most vulnerable community members. Many of us are already “sharing a cup of sugar” or giving a neighbor a ride when they need one. Most recently Crystal Fosnaugh, an oil and encaustic painter who integrates arts into academics, created a community food bank right in our building. Our neighbors can access high-quality dry goods, fresh produce, and household supplies such as toilet paper and sanitary napkins without needing to leave the building. There’s no cost to access the food bank and many of our neighbors voluntarily contribute supplies and money to keep it going. The variety of items in the food bank is pretty wide but if a resident wants something specific they can make a request and someone is usually willing to make a donation.
“As a member of this community, I saw that there was a need,” Crystal said. “I feel connected and fulfilled when I can serve others. It makes me feel good to do things that I know are within my means and that I have the power to do.”
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is with us, many community members have stepped up to help keep the pantry fully stocked, and Crystal opens it at least once a week so that community members can “shop” for what they need without leaving the building and possibly expose themselves to the virus.
“The food bank has provided a sense of safety,” Crystal said. “It has opened conversation and opened community. It has made people feel that we’re going to take care of each other.”
Cultivation of Beauty
When they visit, most of my friends comment on just how beautiful Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts is. They’re not just talking about the architecture. It’s the display of art in the hallways, stairwells, and lobby that leaves a lasting impression. In the time of COVID-19, this cultivation of beauty sustains many of us as we heed the stay-at-home order to flatten the curve — some of us haven’t left our homes in weeks. But the beautiful thing that stands out to me the most during this time is our community deck garden, which has been lovingly tended by Keven Furiya, an oil and watercolor painter who has been part of our artist community for 15 years. The garden is a little nook in the middle of our building that doesn’t get a lot of light but under the care of our resident gardener, the right plants were chosen and properly tended for the past four years. Right now our garden offers a safe and pretty respite.
“Gardening on the deck was hard because it only gets about three hours of sunlight a day,” Keven said. “But right now, with the stay-at-home order, it provides an extra option for people working from home if they just want to take a little break and get some fresh air.”
Open and Clear Communication
One of the most important things that this artists’ community has done is communicate clearly not only to each other, as neighbors, but also to our building’s management company and city officials.
When many of our community members feared that they would be facing eviction or rental debt, we communicated that fear to the apartment manager and a process for requesting a payment plan was put into place. When community members with cars parked on the street were concerned about being forced to move their vehicle every few hours, members of our community spoke to city officials and pushed to have city parking fees eased during this time — and we received relief.
I think this is the most important part of our community, our ability to identify a challenge or problem and then come together to solve it. It’s this togetherness and community resilience that is going to get us through this crisis. Christina Collins Pezzner, an interior designer, says it best.
“I’m grateful to be in this community. We have something pretty special. We all understand each other’s position and how a difficult scenario like this could greatly impact how we can live on the day-to-day. So we tend to work together. We’ve become a tribe.”
Beverly Aarons is a writer and game developer. She works across disciplines as a copywriter, journalist, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and short story writer. She explores futuristic worlds in fiction but also enjoys discovering the stories of modern day unsung heroes. She’s currently working on a series of nonfiction stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their local communities and the world. In August 2018 she produced a live action game and event where community members worked together to envision an economic future they truly desired to leave future generations. She’s currently writing an immersive play about the themes of migration.
Featured image: provided by Beverly Aarons