Perkins Center adapts to create ‘safe space’ for the community

Outdoor green space and virtual classes among changes

 

Special to The Sun: The Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown has created programming to serve patrons during COVID.

After its mandatory closure in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Perkins Center for the Arts focused on finding a creative outlet for the Moorestown community.

Executive Director Khara Buss knew that people needed a safe space to use as they saw fit when the center was able to reopen in June of last year.

“One of the things that we did in 2020 and actually expanded upon this year was we took full advantage of our outdoor spaces and developed additional programming that welcomed the community in a safe environment where they could feel comfortable,” Buss said.

The Perkins Center has plenty of outdoor green space to accommodate artists, and its staff utilized that in a unique way.

“Last year we blocked off, literally with spray paint, blocked off the lawn in 8-foot squares so that people could be assured that, “Okay, I am in that … safe space bubble. We had a really great response to that,” Buss explained.

While giving community members access to outdoor space, the center also made some of its programming virtual, such as pottery classes and several visual arts classes, and  maintained its online connection with patrons.

“We didn’t think that was going to be a permanent solution, but it certainly allowed us to stay connected with some of our more vulnerable communities, as well as be accessible in a new way, like even offering closed captioning and things like that,” Buss said.

“It really allowed us to work on our accessibility standards and really helped us to better define how we could be more accessible and what that means.”

Online programming has provided the Perkins Center with opportunities to expand on how it can best serve the community and its staff, such as giving those still uncomfortable with being in person the chance to stay home and still attend class sessions.

“It’s given us the opportunity to be a little more flexible,” Buss noted. “We’re really certainly trying to be as mindful and considerate of everybody’s personal thresholds.”

From an accessibility standpoint, the center also has brought exhibitions to community members as if they were walking around the gallery in real time. Because its building has challenges with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, that opportunity has a meaningful purpose.

“We moved all of our exhibitions, even though they are physically hanging in the building,” Buss said. “We moved them to an online platform. It gives us the opportunity to bring the exhibition to an accessible space in the building, so that if people come and they can’t navigate the stairs, they can see the whole exhibition on a monitor.”

As the Perkins Center prepares for its fall season with new programming and exhibitions, staff members are hopeful about what’s to come amid many changes.

“We are confident that the safety measures that we put in place are good,” Buss offered. “We’re following the CDC, we’re following the New Jersey Department of Health, and we have had a terrific success rate.”

For more information on upcoming fall events at Perkins, visit its website at www.perkinsarts.org.