Quarantine brings online performing arts Meetup group closer together

Heather Longley
May 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An online group founded to encourage in-person assembly of arts-minded activity partners has gone virtual in the age of COVID-19.

In May 2019, Jennifer Bailey and Rachel Ginder, who bonded over their desire to attend more performing arts events, co-founded the Art and Culture Outing Group. In a year, the Meetup.com-based club grew to more than 400 members and arranged for group attendance at 80 events in the State College area.

“We were surprised at how quickly it grew, so it must have tapped into a need in the community,” Bailey said. “We figured there might be more people like us who would appreciate a community centered around exploring various art and cultural opportunities.”

A core group of strangers quickly became that community.

Bailey said most of them self-identify as introverts, an interesting common theme among the members, “because there’s so much conversation when we get together. The members have a lot of curiosity about a range of subjects, so we’re always learning something new.”

Not only did everyone get to enjoy more events, there was more encouragement to keep an open mind.

By early March, however, the diverse pool of activities from which to choose was shrinking quickly, as the coronavirus wreaked havoc on live events and group gatherings. The once-active club was forced to social distance and return to its roots online.

“The overall feeling in the group is much better than it was the first two weeks. A lot of people were in crisis then,” Bailey said. “We’ve had some members get sick and some that needed help getting groceries and information, or help figuring out how to get content online.”

In response to the obvious desire for resources and connectedness in the face of a stay-at-home order, Bailey reached out to members on Facebook Messenger to establish themed chat groups. She also created a shareable document featuring links to content of interest, including “Things That Make Us Laugh,” health-related articles, workouts, miscellaneous tips and a running list of free performing-arts related events.

If one benefit has come for viewers from the abrupt cancellation of entertainment around the world, it’s the volume of free quality artistic live performances available online.

“We’ve all been bonding over live streams of shows, podcasts or other forms of creativity we can all enjoy when it’s not possible to meet in person,” Ginder said.

She added that, despite the physical distance imposed on a group created specifically for attending live events, the circumstances have brought her closer to the group.

“I think our friendships have become deeper already because we are going through this together,” Ginder said.

While grateful for her new connections, Bailey’s participation is also intertwined with the work she does as vice-chair of the Center for the Performing Arts Community Advisory Council.

“I inform the group members about shows and discount opportunities, as well as the many community events the center offers in addition to its shows,” she said. In turn, the Meetup group informs her work “because I hear feedback from a diverse population that I can present to the staff at the center.”

She also inspired Ginder and Penn State graduate student Bhaskar Mukherjee to join the council.

It may not be for a while, but at some point, the country will be open for business, with the hopes of a robust performing arts sector and patrons hungry for live presentations. And when the theaters open up and the tours hit the road, the Art and Culture Outing group will be making plans to attend.

“If anyone is using their extra down time right now to explore a new interest in theater, music or any other aspects of the arts, our little community will be there with ideas on how to enjoy these things together, once it’s safe to do so,” Ginder said.

‘We Are’ stories

The “We Are” spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State’s commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a “We Are” moment — and we want to hear your “We Are” stories.

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by the novel coronavirus. We are!

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Last Updated June 03, 2020