Joyce Eckert was never much of an artist until March 2019, when she became a frequent visitor to Tacony LAB Community Arts Center. Having previously only colored and drawn in her childhood as much as a typical kid would, Eckert quickly found an escape in sketches and watercolors with her friends at the center.
“I used to quilt and embroider but I can no longer do that easily, but my doctor said I can still do my art,” said Eckert, who has leukemia.
Her routine was disrupted a year later by the COVID-19 pandemic, and though the center has opened and closed several times in the year since, Eckert has been unable to return to her favorite place due to her sickness. But that doesn’t mean she’s put down the pencil, still creating art and giving it to doctors and nurses down at Jefferson Hospital.
She also was able to participate in the Lab’s latest community project, a community quilt with squares submitted by community members depicting how COVID has impacted them run by resident artist Leah Reynolds. Despite the difficulties, Eckert was able to submit six of the 40 squares, including squares that represents the time she died for three minutes in September before coming back and her in the ER.
“Thank God I found the Tacony Lab,” she said.
During these unprecedented times, many have turned to art as a form of comfort. The arts center began hosting virtual classes at the beginning of shutdown, which Barb Baur, coordinator of the center, said attracted a brand-new audience.
“We’ve gotten people from all over the world,” Baur said, saying people from as far as London and Ireland have tuned in to the online classes.
Baur launched the virtual courses last spring complete with grab-and-go supply kits that taught viewers how to create their own masks or other projects. Kids were able to attend summer camp when the center was able to semi-reopen over the summer, and some in-person classes and events were held until they had to shut down again at the end of November.
Recently, the center launched a new hybrid model that will allow for in-person and virtual classes and events. For those attending in-person, there are temperature checks and hand sanitizing stations, and art stations are scrubbed down after use. Popular events such as kid’s club, which used to be first come first serve, are now registration only and split into two time slots so they can maintain the same capacity.
Upcoming classes include eclectic topics such as creating 3D lamps (layering plastic sheeting to create a specific design), egg tempera (mixing certain types of paint with egg yolk) and more, along with regular drawing and crocheting classes.
The center will be bringing art to the community, too. The community quilt will be on display through April 24, including its first week outdoors for individuals to admire from the sidewalk. The next resident artist, Sarah Hunter, is currently preparing for the community to come together and create a collage themed around the concept of home. The project, which will also explore the architecture in the surrounding neighborhood, will be complete around June.
On Fridays in April, artist Lucia Alber will be decking the 6900 block of Torresdale Avenue out with colorful “yarn bombings,” which will decorate the trees with creative crochet. The community can join Friday evenings from 4 to 8 p.m. no matter their skill level. Walking tours celebrating the completion will happen May 7 and 8.
The pandemic forced people to adapt to a new normal, but places such as the arts center have learned to not only adapt but grow from it.
To keep up with classes, events and everything else happening at the center, visit Facebook.com/taconyLAB. ••