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Shafer Gallery adapts to pandemic
Shafer Art Gallery Director David Barnes stands next to a sculpture by Bob Mix that was donated by Robert Feldt, as he conducts a tour of the gallery at Barton Community College. Behind him is a piece from the “Material Pulses” exhibit showing at the gallery until Oct. 20. - photo by Susan Thacker

The pandemic hasn’t been kind to art galleries. At Barton Community College, Shafer Art Gallery Director David Barnes’ annual report details how the gallery adapted in 2020-2021.

“In many ways it feels like this reporting period was abducted by aliens,” Barnes said. “The challenges of COVID-19 and the impact it had on Shafer Gallery programming and outreach made it a necessity for us to look beyond our habitual ways of accomplishing our goals and seek inventive solutions.”

The pandemic meant there were no live shows or receptions at the gallery for most of last year, Barnes said.

The doors of the gallery remained open, but the staff looked for ways to allow more people to come to the gallery via the internet.

The annual Vortex event for area high school art students became the Virtual Vortex, with an online premiere on April 30, 2020. It was online again in 2021, also with an April 30 premiere.

In years past, students participated in a juried art exhibit and then visited the gallery for a day of workshops and hands-on activities as they met professional artists. Vortex Day always culminated with an awards ceremony where several BCC scholarships were presented.

Typically, 150-175 students would spend a day on campus for Vortex Day, Barnes said. At the Virtual Vortex website, “we got over 1,000 hits.”

World-famous artist Kris Kuski recorded a special presentation for this year’s Virtual Vortex High School Art Exhibit.  Kuksi grew up in rural Kansas and encourages future high school artists. In addition to his role in the Vortex event, he was judge for the annual BaRTaRT Student, Faculty, and Staff exhibition and he exhibited two of his own pieces in the gallery.

Currently, the gallery is showing “Material Pulses: Seven Viewpoints.” This exhibition focuses on the art of quilt-making. It includes 17 works by seven fiber artists representing the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Barnes commented that for many years the gallery featured an annual exhibit of contest winners from the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. For the 2014 exhibit, he noted that the modern creations “aren’t your grandmother's quilts.” The new exhibit takes that statement to new levels.

“This pushes the boundaries of quilting into Fine Arts,” Barnes said.

The National Quilt Museum stopped offering its traveling exhibit based on its annual contest, which may have disappointed Shafer Gallery patrons, he said.

“We have a very vigorous and alive quilting community in central Kansas,” he said, adding “quilting ladies can be kind of sassy.” The Material Pulses exhibit uses the same process of creating art with fiber and thread but, he said, “it’s a little bit edgy.”

Free full-color copies of the Shafer Gallery Annual Report are available now at the gallery.

"Material Pulses" is on display through Oct. 20. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free.