Meet The Maker

Herts Year of Culture 2020

Herts Open Studios 2020

Herts Visual Arts Forum started some 30 years ago, supported by our County Council and others.  To encourage more access to artists/art, an initial suggestion to run Herts Open Studios has seen us go from strength to strength.  Over time publicity has changed from posters, printed leaflets and word of mouth through sumptuous/collectable annual brochures to this year’s predominantly on-line event. From initial county/arts council grants, how times have changed.

Today, Herts Visual Arts is a vibrant community embracing change. From largely manual records, our website now provides membership management and our showcase: members have their own gallery page, we share our events/ news from there too. Over 5-10 years, rapid changes in internet access and mobile technology have put our artists into every hand, home or business.

There are changes every year but arguably none more so than 2020. The tumultuous effects of COVID-19, including 23rd March hard lock-down up-ended our entire annual programme. Initial realisations that #HertsOpenStudios could not go ahead (as in previous years) was a shock that left us wondering whether we would have to cancel altogether. We moved through stages of grief, shock, denial, anger and more, until the day we began to see opportunities ahead.

Our strengths include community and a modern robust website (pooled with other Open Studios). Our members were all experiencing difficult times, so re-shaping Open Studios, harnessing Social Media and other technology to provide a focus. It became a to help everyone to update digital marketing skills while taking our art to the public in new, safe ways. From a blank sheet of paper, we started rebuilding the format.

Sharing what Virtual Open Studios might mean had mixed results. Some feel strongly that Open Studios is talking to real people, in person. Others were ready to embrace the change, developing new skills and connections along the way.  Every opinion is absolutely valid, but this year, the climate really didn’t allow an in-person event so our only choice was to make lemonade from 2020 lemons, and judging from feedback from our members, we’ve managed that pretty well. Our members have embraced new ways of working, produced outstanding videos, started social media accounts and posted their stories following daily themes.

30 days, 30 themes, 30 years became our story. Website updates have brought video and social media to the fore. We have a YouTube Channel, impressive increases in Facebook and Instagram followers. We bought in social media advertising expertise and it’s all paid off.  We delivered strong Open Studios event and safely, bringing it to our audiences 24 hours a day.

Years ago, when Herts Year of Culture was just an idea, we had no idea of how 2020 would be up-ended. Huge thanks to HYOC2020 for staying a strong presence, making rapid adjustments necessary to keep arts, culture alive/relevant when predominant concerns are personal safety.  We are very grateful for their daily challenge support, and their role in our 30 years celebration video (produced by Pearldrop). It tells our foundation story and shares how Herts Visual Arts and Open Studios remains relevant today.

We may be 30, but there’s life in us yet: opportunity and potential to remain pivotal not only for artists but also everyone who is curious about the arts.  It’s a story we can all join in with.



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