Updates from Our Executive Director Regarding COVID-19

June 18, 2021:

As the fiscal year comes to a close and the spring folds into summer, we all look forward to spending time in person with people we’ve missed over these many long months. I’m thrilled to report that the Arts of Life community remains strong and resilient. We are looking to the future with optimism, opportunity, and hopefully, some welcome back hugs in July!

In preparing for our community to return in July, I wanted to update you on what to expect. While the city and state have largely reopened, things will continue to be a little different at Arts of Life. As of this week, IDHS/DDD is folding community day services (CDS) into Long Term Care facilities and expect the following from us:

    • Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is still required to wear masks in either of our studios.
      • You should expect to enter the building as you have with temperature checks, symptom screening, hand washing, and mask-wearing.
      • If you are joining us for the first time or for the first time since the pandemic, you must be able to correctly wear a mask over your mouth and nose while you are in the building.
    • People who are vaccinated no longer need to remain six feet apart.
      • You should expect to see the studios looking closer to the pre-pandemic setup with coworking tables or groups of desks.
      • We will continue to have assigned seating, but vaccinated artists and staff will be able to freely move around their dedicated area. 
      • Per DDD requirements, we will continue eating lunch at our desk and not using any appliances. We will also continue to provide the requested supplies and ensure everyone has what they need at their work area.
    • As long as there are openings, all CDS providers must support vaccinated and non-vaccinated participants. 
      • Unvaccinated artists will be asked to remain six feet apart.
      • You should expect to see the cafes in both studios set up for the possibility of an unvaccinated cohort of artists.
      • Should we have an unvaccinated artist join our community, the studio managers (Andreana at Chicago and Megan at the North Shore) will work with that cohort exclusively.
    • We will be welcoming volunteers back!
      • We are slowly beginning to build toward one volunteer per day to increase the support we are able to provide.
      • In addition, we are excited to welcome back our collaborators and look forward to their amazing work.

We will continue to modify our program in line with directions from DDD and keep you all updated as Illinois continues to make progress. Please reach out directly with any questions, concerns, or comments to me dfsher@artsoflife.org or Catherine Norcott cnorcott@artsoflife.org

Thank you for all you continue to do in support of our community. I can’t wait to see you after the July 4th holiday.




July 20, 2020: I’m pleased to share that the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has approved a soft-opening in August in anticipation of a full reopening on September 1. I know that this opportunity inspires in many a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Our staff has been working since our closure to prepare a way to safely bring our community back together. I wanted to share some of what we’ve been working on:

  • Completing a Risk-Benefit Tool for each artist: DDD has developed a tool to determine the risk for each person funded by DDD. Our Community Resources Department has been talking with artists, staff, and families to determine a) if artists want to return to Arts of Life and b) when they will feel safe to rejoin our community.
  • Advocating for our artists’ decision: The safety of our artists and our entire community has never been more critical than it is during this pandemic. Keeping everyone safe is a priority. Arts of Life will also continue to advocate for the dignity of risk and support our artists in understanding their household risks and making the best decision possible.
  • Preparing our studios: I appreciate the Preparedness Assessment tool that DDD developed to guide the transformation of our space to be compliant with DPH and CDC recommendations. The studios will look different and we will be placing a high priority on face coverings, social distancing, and disinfecting high surface areas. Some, but not all, examples of what to expect:
    • All community members will have temperatures taken before entering their assigned entrance. 
    • Artists and staff will be assigned small, social distance approved working cohorts that remain the same throughout the pandemic.
    • In lieu of full studio lunches, each cohort will eat together at their stations and we will encourage food that requires limited preparation and reheating.
    • Each cohort will have an assigned bathroom and entrance/exit from the building.
    • Each artist will have individual art and supply containers in their work area. 
  • Training: Our Virtual Program will be closed on Friday, July 31st for an all-day staff training. Our focus will be on our new COVID protocols and talking through how the studio runs under these protocols. You are welcome to join this training session from 10am – 12 pm by visiting our Virtual Program page
  • Virtual Programming Continues: We know that for some returning to the studio is too high of a risk right now. With that in mind, we anticipate offering both in-person and virtual programming for the foreseeable future. Over the past few months, our incredible staff has developed engaging virtual programming and created opportunities for our artists from both studios to work together. I’m excited to see how this new platform elevates our mission going forward. If you have feedback on our Virtual Programming, we’d love to hear from you.
    • If an artist wants to continue with Virtual Programming while remaining at their CILA, please ask their ISC to create an Arts of Life Virtual Programming outcome on their Person-Centered Plan. Beginning July 1st, CILA providers are able to bill for services that we would typically be providing. Because they are now getting additional funding during the day, artists have the right to be supported in successfully accessing and participating in our online program. Please reach out if you have questions about adding this to your/their plan.

Our goal is to be approved to open both studios with a limited number of artists on Monday, August 10th. Please look to specific communications from our Community Resources Department with a confirmed soft opening date.
I’d like to end with a very heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported our Summer Appeal. I am blown away by the number of people who donated to Arts of Life to ensure our success well beyond the pandemic. Your generosity enables us to continue with our virtual programming, implement our online exhibitions, and support our staff and artists through the crisis. THANK YOU!

June 9, 2020: It is with great disappointment that I am writing to share that the Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (DHS/DDD) has closed all Community Day Services (CDS) until August 31st. You can find the full communication HERE

Although we share DHS’s commitment to safety, we disagree with grouping our artists in with seniors and with the assumptions associated with that decision. It is a step backwards for all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A foundational tenant of Arts of Life is the Dignity of Risk: the idea that self-determination and the right to take reasonable risks are essential for dignity and self-esteem. This right should not be impeded by excessively-cautious caregivers concerned about their duty of care. As the State enters Phase 3, our artists should be allowed the same opportunity as all Illinois residents to decide how and when they return to work. 

We will be working with our legislators to let them know that the level of caution should be determined by our artists and their families – not DHS/DDD. We encourage you to reach out and share your stories directly with DHS and your legislators.

As we work in support of our artists making their own decisions, we will continue our virtual programming during our forced closure. As many of you know, our staff have been working hard to create a virtual program that is true to our mission and values. Many of us also know that being virtual is often harder than being together in person. In order to maintain the level of programming that we expect, Arts of Life will be taking a break from virtual programming as we would in real life programming. Please keep an eye out for calendar updates from our community resources department.

I’d like to end by saying thank you. Our community means so much to me and the support you’ve given us during this crisis has been overwhelming. It’s so heartwarming to know that our values are shared by so many people.

May 28, 2020: As we all anticipate moving into Phase 3 of our state’s COVID-19 recovery plan on May 29th in Glenview and June 3rd in Chicago, both Arts of Life studios will remain closed through June 30th at the earliest in accordance with the directive from the Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities (DHS/DDD). 

Although it remains unclear when DDD will allow Community Day Services (CDS) like Arts of Life to reopen, we have been:

  • Building a coalition of stand-alone CDSes across the state to increase our advocacy with DDD and Director Stark specifically. 
  • Developing a “Returning to Services” plan in preparation for welcoming our community back in person.

We know there will be both physical and programmatic adjustments as we implement new safety measures. By starting this work now, we hope to be as prepared as possible to reopen safely for our staff, artists, and volunteers when we are given the green light. If you are interested in reviewing our current plan, please reach out to me directly. I welcome any feedback as we move along.

While we all continue to suffer the loss of not having our studios return to work, we remain 100% committed to our Virtual Programming platform and encourage all community members to drop in for studio time in the morning and supplemental programming in the afternoon.  

I will continue to keep you updated as we learn more from DDD. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out directly with questions!

April 9, 2020: In line with Illinois Governor Pritzker’s extended Stay at Home order, Arts of Life studio and gallery locations will remain closed until at least May 1.

Arts of Life is taking immediate steps to provide the artists we support with important resources and access to art materials. Our staff has been connecting with artists through regular phone calls and our current priority is delivering art supplies to their homes. Until we can return to the studio together, our team will continue to work remotely, implementing new virtual programming platforms to further develop our artists’ studio practices, promote independence, and cultivate intentional community building. Join us as the Arts of Life Virtual Art Programming Schedule launches on Monday, April 13th. Much like our daily studio schedule, this weekday calendar includes morning meditation or wellness activities, dedicated open studio time for art-making with facilitators, and afternoon art discussions, demos, or videos.  

If you are interested in contributing to our virtual programming, we’d love to have you! Please reach out directly to Andreana (adonahue@artsoflife.org) or Megan (mharrigan@artsoflife.org) to get involved!

As we all navigate this new reality and the challenges it presents, we remain thankful for your continued support and encourage everyone to stay safe, healthy, and creative.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated and inspired on social media – please stay in touch with us on Instagram and Facebook

March 27, 2020: I hope everyone continues to be safe and healthy as we respect the stay at home order and continue practicing social distancing when we do go into the community. These are unprecedented times, and things are changing as we learn more and share our experiences with one another. I feel lucky to have the support network and resources I have within Chicago’s great cultural landscape.  

At Arts of Life, we’ve spent this first few weeks making sure our artists have what they need to keep safe and sane. As is true of most people, this change in schedule and secure in place order is very stressful for our artists. We’ve activated a call tree to ensure that everyone we support is called and checked in with at least two times a week. We are working with families and providers to understand what technologies are available to improve the connection we have with people while we are staying at home. 

This week has been critical as we awaited federal and state governments’ response to the nonprofit art and disability sectors. Our advocates have worked tirelessly to ensure our artists and their direct care professionals, the front line workers, were included in any measure taken in response to COVID-19. An exceptional thank you goes out to everyone, State and local officials, advocates, families, and providers, for working long hours and making sure our sector survives this crisis whole.  

Arts of Life is 100% committed to our staff. Everyone is either working remotely or has moved over to one of our residential partners to support their efforts as people stay at home. Our team is our greatest asset, and we will continue to pay them at their regular rate, so they are there to welcome our artists back into our community. We’ve been using the workplace app and have started a weekly social for two hours using our zoom platform. My team is being cautiously optimistic and remain in good spirits this week.  

What we’ve learned from the final decisions that have gone out from all of the IDD waivers is that the state will reimburse us for anyone living in a CILA based on our previous billings. This is a strong statement from Director Stark in support of keeping programs working, but it isn’t enough. Every day that we are closed, we lose 40% of our income through the home-based waiver and private pay artists. On top of this, we’ve canceled all programming for our last quarter and into the next fiscal year.  

We are hoping to open soon but anticipate Dir. Stark will extend the closing of CDS to keep our artists safe. In response to this potential, we are working to rebuild our program so that our community can work together virtually by:

  • Expanding our zoom account to include all of our staff and upgrade it to allow webinars.  
  • Applying for grants to get Ipads in the hands of our artists who don’t have technology in their homes.  
  • Creating video content and developing a schedule to engage every artist in their practice during this crisis.  
  • Purchasing art-making kits to be delivered as soon as possible.  

I know all of you already know the great team of employees we have at Arts of Life, but now more than ever, they’ve shown their creative problem solving, collaboration, and community spirit throughout these few weeks. I encourage you to reach out to them directly to show your support and give them some good vibes! 

March 24, 2020: Dear Valued Arts of Life Community Members,

Because of the severity of concern and unconventional nature of the current health crisis, I wanted to reach out to our community directly with updates on how we at Arts of Life are managing the safety of our artists and staff during this time. 

We believe that social distancing is critical at this time and continue to take steps to keep all members of our community safe.  The Department of Human Services, Developmental Disabilities Division, is taking extra precautions and are requiring all Day Service organizations close through April 15th. We agree with DHS and appreciate their leadership during this very challenging time.

Please keep in touch through social media for updates on our gallery programming and events. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach contact me directly at dfisher@artsoflife.org or 312-203-0210. We look forward to seeing everyone in a month.

To stay informed from the Illinois Department of Public Health, please visit this site:  https://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/coronavirus

Stay safe and healthy!

Denise Fisher
Executive Director, Arts of Life

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