Interview

Corners Gallery Owner/ Director Ariel Bullion Ecklund was recently interviewed by Arthur Whitman for the Ithaca Times (May 2020). In the interview, Ariel discusses the recent changes in the structure of the business as a direct result of COVID – 19.

When did you close the gallery/shop and what went through your mind in the process and aftermath of doing that? 
 
Due to the spread of COVID-19, I temporarily shutdown the business on March 14. In the weeks following up to that day, traffic flow in the gallery had been eerily quiet. All of us were watching the news and reading about the fast encroaching spread of the virus. The physical process of closing the shop felt strange. I wasn’t quite sure if I was over-reacting and succumbing to alarmist media hype, or if the virus was truly a valid reason to lock the door and put a “closed” sign in the window. 
 
The week following, a member of our family was notified of possible COVID-19 exposure. We self-quarantined for 14 days and thankfully did not develop severe symptoms. At that point, I was assured that my decision to temporarily close the business was the right thing to do. Corners Gallery, among many other brick and mortar shops, has been closed to the public ever since.
 
How did you come upon the idea of doing window exhibits and how is that working out for you? How long will Barbara Page’s work be on-view and what (if anything) do you have planned for a follow up?
 
The DRIVE THRU series of window exhibitions came into fruition as a direct response to my own need to feel useful to the art community. My hope is that DRIVE THRU offers the local community a chance to view and interact with actual works of art, while, of course, maintaining social distancing protocols. I am not opposed to virtual viewing – internet based art exhibitions are important and necessary at this time, but I am fortunate enough to employ just one person (myself!) to make it work in a manner that is safe and with minimal contact.
At the same time, the DRIVE THRU series has restored some sense of normalcy in my own “work” day. I am not the type of person that enjoys working at home — I really desire physically leaving that space and entering my work space. I find much comfort in the analogue world of brick and mortar, of seeing artwork in the flesh, and of the physical act of installing work in a three dimensional space. 
Barbara Page is the first artist to have work in this window series. Since then, I have installed some recent landscape paintings by Stan Taft, and in a third window are selections from the winter exhibition, B&W Biennial, presented by Exhibit A. I plan to continue the DRIVE THRU series throughout the summer, including local gallery artists Domenica Brockman, Tim Merrick, Suzanne Onodera and others.
 
Tell me (if you can) about the canceled John Hartell exhibition. Is there any interest in resuscitating that in the future? 
 
The John Hartell exhibition had been originally scheduled for April/May of 2020, and following much debate, was canceled in early March due to COVID-19. We have not made any concrete future exhibition plans as of yet – due to the fact that gathering is still on pause, and many family members involved in the planning of this exhibit live out of state and cannot plan for travel at this time.
 
What, at this point, are you looking forward to, in terms of long term prospects for the gallery? Would you like to continue doing shows in your current space or otherwise working with your artists?
 
I am absolutely looking forward to the time when we can all get together again and enjoy an in person gathering! In the meantime, the gallery has created The Interview Series. This series of interviews was conducted electronically, in place of the traditional, in person interview, and focuses on the influences, inspirations, and aspirations of the Corners Gallery artists. The Interview Series is accessible through the gallery website and can be viewed alongside some of the artist’s recently created work. 
 
In terms of the long term– exhibition plans and ways of working with artists are in consideration as we speak. Let’s just say the gallery is moving forward with cautious optimism .. the reality is that most small art galleries have always operated on a shoestring budget – throw in a global pandemic with the threat of great financial uncertainty, and you’ve quite a challenge ahead.
 
How has the current crisis impacted your own work as an artist. Have you had more time for this work or do you see it as developing in new ways?
 
As an artist, I have experienced many various levels of productivity in the last few months. March was a very difficult time for me as I was filled with fear of the unknown, and sadness for the people that were becoming very sick and dying from the virus. Although, I feel very fortunate in that my family and the local community is relatively well, the trauma of the experience as a whole will be with me for some time. There was a certain period that I did feel lucky enough to have some creative time and I was able to use it well, although recently I find myself less involved in my own work and increasingly involved in day to day Corners Gallery operations – even without the actual foot traffic. It is always a delicate balance to find the time and mental space to be creatively inspired and productive while holding down a full time career. 
 
What do you see as the impact of the crisis for the local visual arts community more broadly? What are some of the challenges and prospects? 
 
COVID – 19 has impacted the visual arts community in a multitude of ways. I know many artists who have found it difficult to be productive in the studio. I think we live in a society that puts too much value on the end product of being creative — the process itself should be viewed as equally important – and during this time of uncertainty, art making and the people who make it should allow themselves to step back and consider their importance in the world.
 
The direct result of restrictions on social gathering has forced artists and galleries to think outside of the box — literally and figuratively! Ultimately, I see this as a positive change — many aspects of our life had become systematic – in the art world and elsewhere – and it is always good to shake things up a bit. 
 
As the saying goes, “we are in this together”… and as a result of this pandemic, I feel the arts community has become closer knit. There is now a larger sense of camaraderie in order to survive. I do hope this feeling continues and we, as a human race, can come together collectively, with compassion and grace, to work towards a better future for all.