The Art and Creativity of Self Care

Edited by Paulette Beete
a comic strip featuring a sheep and a chicken sitting on a couch together talking about making presents to lift people's spirits during the pandemic

Patricia Germann of the National Endowment for the Arts Research and Analysis office has been drawing comics to help her weather the pandemic. This one is from March.

Because we practice what we preach, like many of you, during these difficult times, here at the National Endowment for the Arts after work we've found ourselves turning to the arts and creative pursuits for comfort. Some of us have been exploring new art forms, while others have been trying something new. Some of us have been creating space for creativity inside our homes, while others of us have been busy in our backyards reconnecting with nature through the art of gardening. There have been opportunities to put our skills as presenters and administrators to work organizing creative discovery and play activities for our families. And there have been new books to discover based on colleague recommendations, new inspiring artists to follow discovered via social media browsing, and, of course, lots and lots of new recipes. We hope we inspired you to follow your own creative desires, not just during particularly difficult times but any time you need a break. We look forward to hearing from you on Facebook and Twitter which creative pursuits you've been leaning into lately!

I spent a lot of time over the summer folding origami sea creatures for a mobile I made for my sister’s new baby. Since I haven’t been able to see any of my friends or colleagues since the pandemic started, keeping in touch with family has become even more important to me. There were a lot of stressors and unknowns about having a baby in the middle of a pandemic, and I wanted to make something for my sister and her baby that would take their minds off of the chaotic word around them. Making the mobile took my mind off of the pandemic, too, and I think the finished piece turned out very well! — Jennie Terman, Multidisciplinary Arts Division

I’m actually planning to self release an album of new sound works created during pandemic. I’ve been working on long form tracks composed to hopefully relieve stress and get listeners into a zone! I was able to test drive these pieces during a Quarantine Concert on the Experimental Sound Studio series back in April - (I got to make a magical set out of my kitchen, which was a fun escape!): — Jax DeLuca, Visual Arts Division

Our family has done our best to mix it up at Casa Orlove Rodriguez to stay sane during the pandemic. Kids have been engrossed in everything from cooking all kinds of meals and desserts, (virtual) dance classes, running a mini-boot camp for their out of shape parents, Scrabble tournaments, and more. We have been playing our fair share of board games including a classic Spanish card game called ‘Pocha’. And who hasn’t been on Netflix? As a family we have devoured numerous TV series, documentaries, and films. Luckily, we have had the good fortune to get out of the apartment quite a bit for runs, hikes, games in the park (capture the flag, bocce ball, football) and a couple epic summer RV trips. And I have been playing late night Texas Hold’em with my old pals from Chicago every Saturday since the pandemic hit in March. — Michael Orlove, Partnership Division

In the early months of the stay-at-home orders, the garden was my solace. Nothing like plunging your hands into dirt to help realign one’s priorities. Smelling that loamy scent and rolling the soil between my fingers was elemental and soothing. This year’s garden required a lot of planning as I was adding to “our estate” and filling in patches where plants had not done well the year before. Using the fabulous Better Homes and Gardens Beds and Borders as a guide along with plenty of Google research, I assembled my landscape design. Then, it was off to the Merrifield Garden Center in Virginia that somehow managed to stay open when others closed. Masked and distant, it was a thrill to walk along the rows and rows of perennials and annuals, all of that thriving, blooming, wonderfulness, some of which I was able to bring home to be part of my home. — Victoria Hutter, Public Affairs

During the time of COVID I have been learning how to play the ukulele (though admittedly was much more dedicated at the start of the pandemic). Playing the ukulele requires me to focus on what I am doing, giving my brain a pause from all the other thinking.  It’s also fun.  I started at the beginning of the pandemic taking an online ukulele group class. I have also been making heart maps as inspired by Mari Andrew to reflect on how I am feeling.  What brings me joy, what am I excited about, what makes me nervous/anxious/sad, what is on my mind etc.  I recently found a heart map from a year ago and it was interesting to see how different the two heart maps are. — Carolyn Bartley, Office of the Senior Deputy Chairman

My family and I are big Disney and Star Wars fans. We had been watching The Mandalorian on Disney+ and had finished the entire first season in January. Fortunately, Disney+ added a new show during the pandemic titled: Disney Gallery-Star Wars: The Mandalorian. There a numerous episodes that show behind the scenes of how the show was created. Each episode focuses on one area and includes everything from musical score to directing to cast to technology to effects and animatronic creatures to connecting this new series back to the original Star Wars films. We would sit down as a family and watch one episode every weekend. It was fascinating seeing behind the scenes of a show we all love! The second season begins late in October and we can’t wait! — Beth Johnson, Budget

various art work made by Arts Endowment staff

Clockwise from left: A painting by Patricia Moore Shaffer, hand-built pottery by Nikki Jacobs, a drawing by Carlos Arrien, a photography by Katja von Schuttenbach, and an origami conch shell by Jennie Terman. All photos by staff.

I’ve become more active in our local visual art center in Williamsburg, Virginia, and am participating in a few online exhibitions this fall. I’ve attached a few images that have been featured in an online exhibit. I also got caught up in the sourdough baking craze (and am still baking!). — Patricia Moore Shaffer, Research and Analysis

I disassembled and put back together a banjo I had bought at Goodwill pre-shutdown for $30. I had to pay someone to fix the cracked head but was able–not playing the instrument, never even having held one in my hands–to take it apart completely, clean it and put it back together properly. I also restrung it, using guidance from YouTube. Now, I enjoy looking at the beautiful instrument decorating my living room. In addition, I now find inner peace with photography. For the duration of the pandemic I have escaped my 24/7 self-isolation, by taking short walks in nature in my immediate geographic area. I began taking photos of birds a few years ago, particularly migratory birds around Rock Creek Park, but added insects and butterflies this summer. It’s so beautiful seeing the tiny faces of dragonflies; butterflies, and even bees. However, the biggest “off the wall” achievement for me during the pandemic is my finding–via an ad on my Facebook feed–the “Rhythm Bliss” community, led by wonderful Alexandra Jai and her husband Michael. She is a trained ballet dancer and learned African hand drumming from famous drummer Babatunde Olatjunji. I bought a small djembe and a 16-inch frame drum. Several times a week, I position myself in front of the computer and focus on the lessons, along with sometimes several hundred other students from around the world. They are based in in Vancouver, British Columbia, and their goal is to create community and healing through drumming. The energy Alexandra creates on a regular basis is absolutely amazing and a lifesaver for me now. — Katja von Schuttenbach, Performing Arts Division

I’ve gotten really into embroidery during quarantine. I made this (from an Etsy kit, can’t take credit for the drawing). My next project is going to be a set of cocktail napkins for a good friend who’s getting married next year! — Ann Scoggins, Grants Management

One of the first things I did was make a curtain of festively colored ribbon to break up the space between my kitchen and dining room. It was a project I’d been meaning to do for some time and never got around to, but I figured quarantine was the perfect time. And now it’s brighter and more cheerful in here, so bonus! And I’ve just bought some canvases to try to propel myself back into painting! So that’s next! — Kelli Rogowski, Public Affairs

I’ve taken comfort in the escape of great novels, and taken advantage of my amazing colleagues here at the arts endowment for recommendations. Our Director of Literary Arts, Amy Stolls, loaned me three gorgeous books— The Particular Sadness of Lemon CakePriest Daddy, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Each of them has been a delicious escape into the point of view of characters far removed from my own life, which is for me one of the joys of great literature— the ability to find empathy with people unlike ourselves. — Greg Reiner, Performing Arts

NYT Cooking and Jacques Pepin have been bright spots during quarantine.  Cooking is my creative substitute for sketching, and it puts dinner on the table to boot.  New quarantine skills include deboning and stuffing whole chickens, airy cheese souffles, and freezer full of homemade broth so dense it practically jiggles. Gravlax, the homemade alternative to smoked salmon.  Perfecting no-knead bread. My family fully endorses this endeavor. — Mindy Richman Garfinkel, Grants Management

I’ve been refinishing and reupholstering furniture during the pandemic, including this chair among many other things, and then trying to keep Millie the Pandemic Puppy from chewing on all my hard work, which is a never-ending job! — Ann Meier Baker, Performing Arts Division

photos of various home improvement projects by Arts Endowment staff

Clockwise from left: Home projects by Guiomar Ochoa, Kelli Rogowski, Katie Weisner, Mary Anne Carter, and Sarah Burford. All photos by staff.

As an undergrad studying music, I would spend time in the music library listening to recordings (oftentimes vinyl) and following along with the full scores. There are now savvy classical music enthusiasts who’ve recreated this experience for you in YouTube videos—almost like musical score slideshows. It’s been a wonderful rediscovered pastime and one of my favorite ways to enjoy some of my favorite classical music pieces. — Chery Schiele, Multidisciplinary Arts Division

I’ve found during the pandemic that I’m happy I’m old. If I were young right now, I’d be going crazy. As it is, I’ve been able burrow in various rabbit holes…some instigated by work—like an interview with playwright Michael R. Jackson got me listening to the recording of his musical A Strange Loop on a seemingly endless loop on my phone which led me to Candide, which led me to Heartbeat Opera (you see where this is going). I’m just following paths where ever they lead. My reading trajectory is a little more straight forward—James McBride led to James Baldwin who led to Isabel Wilkerson; and, I’ve been on a medieval history tear (yes, I am that nerdy) which led me to histories of the Middle East and suddenly I find myself reading about empire in Central Asia. And I’ve been devouring British mysteries because everything comes out okay in the end and they eat scones. Speaking of scones, I always cooked but now I’m baking which is consuming because I have to measure and think about things as opposed to cooking where I just see what I have and combine. The highlight was a flourless chocolate cake with a chocolate mascarpone ganache. It was ah-mazing.  My housemate Rod—never one for compliments—has stated I can no longer say “I’m not a baker!” And, (drum roll!) for the first time, I’ve managed a garden that has been blooming from March through summer into fall. I also built a stone wall around two of my raised beds. That hurt…for days, and it makes me seem more energetic than I am actually am.  I’m a great sitter, (I think it’s my super-power) and nothing makes me happier than reading in the garden with my completely perfect dogs sleeping at my feet.  It’s amazing how revitalizing petting a dog can be—for both of us! I swear: fur, a wet nose and a waggy tail can resolve a lot of issues. — Josephine Reed, Public Affairs

With dance studio time limited to eight hours/week, our basement has become a studio [for my daughter] complete with Marley floors and mirrored wall. — Mary Anne Carter, Chairman

I don’t like handbuilding clay, but without my own studio, kiln, or glazes, I just played around for a few months. But I was sad, as a big part of my pottery hobby is being with other potters. Zoom calls only helped a little. In the meantime, I’ve taken up yoga and that helps a bit more. Am hoping we see better times ahead. — Nikki Jacobs, Grants Management

Fearing I would be trapped in DC during the pandemic, I made the 24-hour drive from DC to the family ranch in the Texas Panhandle, arriving in Armstrong County, near Amarillo on March 18th. I've maintained the place since inheriting it in 2014, but have only managed to "escape" here a week or so at a time. As a result, there were great opportunities for "projects,” Because of the topography and climate of the Panhandle—a high, dry, treeless plain comprising some of the flattest land on Earth—my mom's idea of a yard or garden was simply a small patch of grass surrounded by a tall solid fence to ward off the strong winds which seem to blow constantly. Having picked up a few tricks of the trade during my work at Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans, I decided to see if I could, in fact, establish a respectable garden on land which at one time held the highest concentration of American bison or buffalo in North America. To fight off the Pandemic Pounds, I've put to good use a new push mower and chain saw, installed a stone terrace, trimmed back Trumpet Vines that were about to topple the fence, cut some flower beds in the grass and even tucked a little fountain in the corner. I also repurposed the large iron pot used by my great grandmother and grandmother for boiling water when washing clothes. It's now planted in ever-hardy Lantana and Potato Vine which can withstand the heat and wind of the Panhandle. I'm now working on plans for a major addition to the ranch house, so that coupled with my version of landscape architecture, Texas style, has keep me busy and reasonably in shape! — Tony Chauveaux, Programs and Partnerships

I must admit being on lockdown is not really my cup of tea. I’m an extrovert. I live with extroverts and the first couple of weeks were definitely an adjustment to put it mildly. I’m also a glass is half full kind of person so I decided to make the most of all the time I suddenly found myself with. I live in an old farm house that was built in the early 1900’s and there are so many home projects we’ve been needing to tackle but never had the time or quite frankly, the money. So, I’ve taken this time  to focus on my house and the little things that make a house a home. I’m by no means an artist but I’ve discovered I’ve got quite the knack for interior design....on a shoestring budget. My biggest accomplishment has been revamping an old staircase that was charming but needed a major facelift! It reminds me of Spain. I miss traveling more than anything else and looking at these stairs gives me a glimmer of hope and reminds me there’s still so much more to see in this wide world. —Guiomar Ochoa, Partnership Division

Photos of upholstery, baking and garden projects by NEA staff

Clockwise from top left: Quarantine projects by Tony Chauveaux, Anne Meier Baker, Cheryl Schiele, Mindy Richman Garfinkel, and Josephine Reed.

Over the past months at home, I’ve been inspired by creative communities (many on Instagram) that uplift artists who are also caregivers, and who bring those multifaceted roles to their artistic practice. As the pandemic has caused the boundaries to dissolve between family, work, and creative life in my own day-to-day, these communities have inspired me to take my own collage and mixed media practice more seriously. I converted part of my basement into a home studio/office space a few months ago and started hanging some art, and it’s been a real space of refuge and solace to keep making work as we engage with these unprecedented times. — Sarah Burford, Visual Arts Division

Much of our cultural activity has been about keeping our 5-year old entertained and engaged. We've been taking long walks in the woods - grateful for Rock Creek Park! - but also tuning in for some of the amazing arts programming online. Our current favorite for kids is Opera Lafayette's "Opera Starts With Oh! Online." Each week they showcase an element of what goes into an opera, in a beautiful, fun and inspiring way. The talent is amazing, and I think the parents have enjoyed it as much as the kids. — Courtney Spearman, Visual Arts

Cultivating lots of plants. I've currently got 20 houseplants and three different cuttings that I'm propagating.  trying to get as much green around me as I can. They may eventually take over my whole apartment. I also bought a beautiful painting by a local artist, Sharon Robinson, that I met at an event earlier this year. Having it in my apartment near my desk makes me feel better. I've also been buying masks by artists as a way to support them and make wearing a mask a more creative endeavor. I've also been doing lots of puzzles, which I find really soothing.  — Sara Nash, Performing Arts Division

I've just reworked an image from an old mural on the immigrant experience. I'll be using it in an upcoming mural project that has a COVID story behind it. — Carlos Arrien, Public Affairs

This pandemic has been rough, and I relied on creative outlets to get me through anxiety, a small depression, and the loss of three family members (not immediate). My workspace reflects most of that: I painted Ted (the giraffe) from a paint-by-numbers set, finished a cross stitch baby quilt for my sister (books on top shelf), REALLY got into sourdough baking (books on third shelf) and reorganized my home (the work space itself). — Katie Weisner, Office of the Inspector General