One Year of COVID-19

Dear Arts of Life Community,

This time last year I was having the perfect week – welcoming a new team at our Chicago Studio plus dinner with a donor and birthday drinks with a close friend. Three of my favorite things. Then, quite suddenly, everything shut down. The Department of Human Services took sweeping steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and closed all Community Day Services (CDS) indefinitely. Our whole world changed in an instant, and everything we’ve built together became more fragile than ever before. I can admit now that, like so many, I was terrified. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have access to Arts of Life, that we wouldn’t be in community with each other.

Then as we were beginning to get our footing and adapting to the pandemic, a long-overdue uprising swept the country in response to the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd and many others. This call to action was heard by our team and we were challenged to push our equity and inclusion value forward – to be better and do more. 

Reflecting on this unprecedented year, I’m overwhelmed by the incredible work that’s happened. Words can not do justice to the resilience and agility our entire Arts of Life community has demonstrated over these twelve months. Some highlights for me include:

  • Developing a robust virtual program: I am in awe of our staff’s ability to swiftly translate our work to a digital platform – a testament to their values and commitment to our model. At a time when so many felt isolated, it has brought our two studios closer while also expanding our network to include guest curators, artists, and collectors from across the country. This program continues to be so impactful to our community.
  • Retaining our Staff: The pandemic truly highlighted how amazing and essential our employees are. I’m grateful for the work of our development team and members of our Executive and Associate Boards. They, too, had to pivot and find a path to meeting an ever-increasing financial gap. To date, they have successfully doubled our fundraising goal in order to ensure our program remained whole and that every staffer was retained.
  • Developing a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Committee: Equity and inclusion have always been a hallmark of Arts of Life, but we understand that this isn’t enough, and this work never ends. I’m thankful for several staff who advocated that we take a serious look at how Arts of Life is perpetuating systematic racism and commit to making changes across the agency. As a result, staff of all levels and Executive Board members have joined together to create a new DEIA Committee which will work with Enrich Chicago through this important work.
  • Increasing our Advocacy: Our mission has never been more critical. Many of our artists’ voices have been silenced as a strategy to keep them safe. With the risk of being lost in the shuffle of so many large organizations and institutions, we partnered with a dozen independent day programs across the state to advocate for the right of all adults with disabilities to the dignity of risk, to community, and to being heard. As we see a light at the end of this crisis, Arts of Life will continue to be an advocate and partner for our artists. 
  • Looking Ahead to Reinvention: True to our culture as a progressive program, we have not just treaded water this year but continue to forge ahead. By evaluating what has worked and what we’ve learned this year, we continue to adapt and grow our program. It’s too soon to share details, but I am very excited about what the next 20 years will look like.

Personally, I’m very thankful that Arts of Life has continued to be a safe space. Being grounded by our work has brought me comfort during this very hard year. We owe everything to our broader Arts of Life community. There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude. So many worthy organizations and political candidates needed contributions this year. I want to make sure you know that the overwhelming support given to Arts of Life has not gone unnoticed and that our artists and staff are putting it to good use.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in person down the road. There is much to grieve and much to celebrate. Ultimately, I’m excited to work with all of you – our resilient community – on Arts of Life’s next chapter.