How Processing COVID-19 as an Artist Transformed My Arts in Health Practice

Posted by Ms. Zoë Lintzeris, Jun 08, 2021 0 comments

No one living in New York last spring will forget the tension and the morbidity that enveloped the city when COVID-19 hit. In that period, all I heard were sirens and birds—an eerie silence for a metropolis that “never sleeps.”

My roommates and I fully dealt with contracting the virus that April—from extreme fatigue and chest pressure, to headaches, fever, and the loss of taste and smell. In this milieu, I was attending virtual classes for my Arts in Health graduate certificate program, and observing my savings dwindle as work contracts and opportunities disappeared. 

While my body physically healed, feelings of uncertainty and anxiety overpowered me. Some days were an absolute struggle, but thankfully, I knew I wasn’t alone in my reaction and circumstances as many of my friends and peers were down and out. Even though all my work was canceled—including my first invitation to curate and co-produce a show in Manhattan — I knew I had to release what I was feeling.

A black and white photo of a person taking their own photo in a mirror. Behind them are drawings of hands on a wall.
Documenting a moment during COVID-19 quarantine, painting in progress. Photo by Zoë Lintzeris.

I spent hours and days painting hands. Yearning for connection and touch, it was the only way to process what I felt at the time, as my camera and lenses were shelved. For two months, my days consisted of painting, applying to jobs, waiting on hold for hours with the Department of Labor, and texting or video-calling friends. 

But then I had a thought that forever changed my concept of work-life: Why not connect with others through art in a new way?

Between my painting frenzy and newfound role as a student, I created a way to virtually teach art and mindfulness practices to children and adults on a weekly basis—all online. I reached out to people who I previously taught as a teaching artist over the years, hoping someone would agree. It took one person to enthusiastically respond, and that set the wheels in motion. 

One client led to another client, and then to two others. Within two months, eight clients were on my roster and I saw them weekly, establishing relationships with some people I previously knew, and others I only met online. 

I was shocked. How was this possible? 

Through this crisis, my clients and I made art. With the adults I taught, I commiserated and listened to their worries and fears. With the children and teens, I did my best to laugh and encourage. It was all any of us could do together as we remained apart from each other: to show up, to create, to release, and to reflect. 

I was concerned that I would not be able to build a sense of mental intimacy and connection with clients as I did in person. By navigating this new virtual framework, it took some adjustment but I dove in, and slowly reconnected to my role as an artist and my journey as a practitioner. It wasn’t easy, but it was life changing.

In the months that followed, I wrote papers and attended classes for school, Zoomed with clients, and continued to paint. I created an online exhibition that was attended by people from all over the world for the first time so that I could close off my year on a note of optimism. I slowly regained feelings of hope and purpose—and it only took a pandemic for me to recognize how I must press on with self-encouragement and to follow my heart. 

In recognizing the insecurity and uncertainty of everything in life, I realized how making art gave me a sense of security and purpose, and how it could—just maybe—make others feel grounded and secure as well, if only for a moment. 

I believe that the “secure” jobs of the future are ones that will embrace creativity and empathy, while cultivating community. As we slowly yet increasingly veer toward AI employment, it is crucial we remember what makes us human in the first place—and how the arts take us there. Together. 

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