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How many of you have already nicknamed this year, Perfect Storm 2020? Is your memory overloaded with information, opinions, reports and images from the far-reaching media that continue to sew an ever-expanding crazy quilt of conflicting facts, fake facts and checked facts into your day? Many of you are experiencing challenges close to home, family, work, school and livelihood. Is there relief in sight?

When I visited the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings for Neltje’s solo exhibition, the staff shared their experiences during the difficult months of closure to the public. Each had different jobs and levels of responsibilities from custodial to administrative and curatorial to reception.

Yet all expressed the relief they felt by taking time to periodically sit in the quiet and serenity of the galleries. Looking at large canvases filled with bright colors, the exuberance of brush strokes and a sense of joy, they found the much-needed break from the weight of the unknown, the instability and confusion outside the walls.

Here at home, we may seek refuge inside the art walls of Sheridan. The impressive lineup of activities and offerings during last month’s Celebrate the Arts 2020 made us all proud to be members of the Sheridan community.

The events were a reminder of the opportunities that these creative centers offer day to day throughout the year. Their calendars offer workshops for all ages and abilities with area artists. Websites promote performances by our accomplished musicians and actors from our local scene to touring companies traveling through the region. Social media remind us about exhibitions and concerts presented by membership, faculty and students plus invited guest artists.

Our family of art institutions, which provided virtual access during the early days of coping with COVID, now are opening doors with safe practices and physical distancing. What a relief to wander once again the galleries at SAGE, Ucross and The Brinton as we experience the emotion and sense of connection that comes uniquely with engagement with an artwork.

What a joy to look forward to performances at The WYO or concerts at the Whitney Center for the Arts and the sound of live music and words to fill our hearts and permeate our senses.

While some in our community support the arts with the purchase of tickets or an annual contribution, all of us may provide the most vital ingredient in the arts, an audience. Your presence at a concert or an exhibition, often free of charge with a warm welcome to the public, is always appreciated.

Your heart filled round of applause, your interaction with the artists at an opening, a thank you to staff or a board member of the hosting event or a quiet lingering in a gallery are valued and prized.

At a time when the media seemingly strives to stir up our differences and further divide us, we still may find a place in the arts where we may find connection with a shared human spirit. Some of us will stand in awe of a 19th Century western painting.

Others will settle into an evening of laughter as a play’s script hits at the heart of the human condition. Still others will toe tap to the energy of instruments skillfully handled or retune senses to electronics warping sound into unfamiliar forms. Let us not forget our experience of unraveling and responding to a contemporary artwork as questions and our feelings run the gamut. In the arts, the vast and expressive world of creativity, we all may find a refuge, relief and renewal in heart and spirit.

May the Art Force be with you.

Mary Jane Edwards is executive director of Jentel Foundation.

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