Aspen community connects online during coronavirus shutdown
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The Aspen community has stayed connected during its first days of serious social distancing. As our usual gathering places — charilifts, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, yoga studios and workplaces — have shuttered to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, a new community has sprung up in the virtual realm.
Aspen social life has continued somewhat on local hiking trails and ski hills, mostly with friends at the recommended 6-foot distance. But Aspenites also have been leaning on video chat platforms like Facetime to connect with local friends as they distance socially and refrain from in-person meetings, and are using platforms such as Zoom and GoToMeeting for larger groups.
Aspen Institute staffer Zoe Brown and two local colleagues held a social hour, with drinks, via Zoom last week. Brown, who lives alone in APCHA condo downtown, had been working from home and social distancing since last Wednesday, as she had cold symptoms.
“It actually helped a little bit with the stress,” she said of the virtual happy hour. “It feels like you’re actually connecting with people again.”
Of course, topics for regular conversation — other than the obvious — are relatively limited these days.
“When you’re home all day, there’s not a lot to catch up on,” she said with a laugh. “We just talked about what movies and shows we’ve been watching, books we’re reading, things like that.”
Nationally, as people self-isolate themselves to prevent spread of COVID-19, group activities like movie watch parties and book clubs also have started popping up on Zoom.
Local businesses large and small, from the Aspen Skiing Co. to here at The Aspen Times, have moved meetings to video chats.
Civic groups like Aspen Rotary Club also quickly made the move online. The local chapter of the service organization last week suspended its in-person weekly meetings — which typically draw 50 or so of its 100 members to the Mountain Chalet on Thursday mornings — and moved them to the virtual realm.
“In the spirit of continued connection and engagement,” the club is hosting its meeting through Zoom, board President Shaun Hathaway said. “It’ll be a brand new experiment, but the important thing is for our organization to continue moving forward.”
Hathaway is aiming to continue traditions of the weekly meeting in these temporary virtual versions, including hosting a guest speaker and collecting donations for a charitable cause through “happy bucks” giving. At Thursday morning’s meeting, they opened as always by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (this time with a screen shot of the American flag instead of the real thing).
Rotary’s committees, who handle projects like its college scholarships, also have moved to Zoom.
The Aspen Elks Lodge closed March 11 and nixed all of its events. But its committees, which grant scholarships to local students and provide services to veterans, are meeting virtually. At first, the Elks’ Beth Hagerty said, they stayed in touch via email, text and phone. But after a few days, despite limited technological literacy among the group, the Elks were on video chat.
“Our committees are getting with the times and have been meeting with GoToMeeting and Zoom,” Hagerty said Tuesday. “So proud of them.”
The Aspen Community Foundation, which mobilized over the weekend to establish the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, was also in the thick of its selection process for awarding its annual college scholarships to local high school students when the coronavirus restrictions on gatherings went into place.
The scholarship process has gone uninterrupted, executive director Tamara Tormohlen said, with virtual meetings beginning March 13.
“Attendance has been complete,” Tormohlen addedd.
The yoga studio Aspen Shakti announced it was closing its physical space on March 12 but quickly began providing online classes.
“We have been working diligently the past few days to develop some new and exciting virtual offerings so that you may continue on your path of personal growth through regular, daily practices with the teachers of Aspen Shakti,” owner Jayne Gottlieb wrote that night, “as well as some other incredible spiritual guides.”
The next day, Gottlieb rolled out a free platform with a schedule of online yoga classes streaming in real-time through YouTube.
On Thursday, for instance, Shakti hosted a morning meditation at 8 a.m., a Vinyasa Flow yoga class at 9 a.m. and a Spring Equinox Ritual at 4:30 p.m.
“We encourage you to dedicate yourself to your highest self care and use these classes as opportunities to virtually connect as a source of light, strength, calm and vitality during this crazy unknown and unsettling time,” Gottlieb wrote, also encouraging participants to keep a sense of humor through any glitches as they figured out the virtual sessions.
Shakti also launched an online Alchemy Spa, offering one-on-one online sessions for shamantic healing sessions, meditation and astrology. Those require payment.
The studio encouraged members to continue their paid Shakti memberships to support the staff, but also waived the 30-day notice for cancellations to accommodate people under financial stress during the coronoavirus disruptions.
02 Aspen followed suit this week, announcing its new “02 Live” series, with free classes from four different 02 instructors on YouTube.
Local children’s offerings for exercise and creative expression are also starting to go virtual. Carbondale’s Crystal River Ballet announced March 13 that it would begin hosting its children’s ballet classes online, rather than in person at the Launchpad.
“Just taught my 1st ZOOM ballet class!” dance instructor Jeni Ptacek wrote on Facebook. “Keep dancing! This too shall pass.”
The Art Base in Basalt started hosting its children’s art classes online this week, and executive director Genna Moe said they were expanding capabilities to add more soon. The midvalley nonprofit is also working on providing laptops to local children who don’t have them, so that they can participate.
The literary nonprofit Aspen Words canceled its writing group and the final Winter Words author events of the season, which had been scheduled for March 31. The organization also canceled the Manhattan ceremony for its Aspen Prize for Literature on April 16, but will hold the ceremony virtually and broadcast it online.
The organization also is planning to build online resources to keep its literary community going through coronavirus disruptions.
“Getting lost in a book or a writing project is still the best way to find refuge from your own four walls or an anxious mind,” the staff wrote to supporters. “Stories are a doorway to another place, a connection to other people, to society and to joy.”
Additional arts organizations are expected to launch interactive virtual programming in the coming days. The Red Brick Center for the Arts, which had to cancel the art opening for its “Technology and Tradition” exhibition on March 12, is working on producing a virtual walk-through of the show with artists, according to curator Trace Nichols, and may launch virtual versions of its art classes.
Aspen Film, which postponed the annual Aspen Shortsfest — originally slated to begin March 31 — is exploring the possibility of hosting a virtual film festival.
Theatre Aspen Education announced March 13 that it would postpone all five of its spring programs and productions for local youth. But education director Graham Northrup did begin virtual rehearsals for the Spring Conservatory production of “The Foreigner” on Tuesday, hosting a read-through with the cast via Zoom.
Local retailers, including Explore Booksellers and LIV Aspen boutique, have enhanced and launched online shopping experiences — Explore with order-by-phone and an audiobook partnership with Libro.fm (more info here) and LIV Aspen through virtual shopping experiences via Facetime.
Local education may go online, as well.
On Monday, during the virtual community meeting on COVID-19, Aspen School District Interim Superintendent Tom Heald said administrators are developing capability for curriculum-based online classes for students.
“If we see it going into April, we will provide that service,” Heald said at the community meeting.
Two days later, the school closure was extended to April 17.
The Aspen Chapel, which already had video and streaming infrastructure in place, began expanding its offerings last week and welcomed in other congregations to use them for church services.
Along with its Sunday morning service going online-only Sunday, the Aspen Chapel hosted a Christ Episcopal Church livestream of its service later in the morning, both with church leaders giving sermons to an empty chapel but to live audiences at home.
The Chapel additionally launched a weekly community program, “Wednesday Morning Live from the Aspen Chapel,” online yoga classes, online music with Aspen Noise and also added a daily morning meditation meeting through Zoom.
“I feel so much that this is an opportunity — that rather than be separated and isolated by ‘social distancing,’ we can consciously and intentionally come together in new and deeper ways,” wrote meditation leader Heather Vesey. “To hold each other and our world with even more love and attention.”
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