During these strange coronavirus times, Mississippians find virtual ways to find connection and community

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Photo by Sherry Lucas

Broad Street Baking Company sold fresh produce that couldn’t be delivered to closed restaurants, directly to the public recently, with a majority of proceeds going directly to out-of-work employees.

The line snaked around the back of Banner Hall as people waited to snap up fresh produce at “fire sale” prices, right off the truck, at Broad Street Baking Company recently. Restaurant closures meant Sunrise Produce couldn’t deliver to them; this one-off sale was a way to get vegetables in people’s hands and help out employees in the process.

“Keep appropriate distances,” restaurant owner Jeff Good reminded folks in line, who’d drifted closer together to chat. “Nice gloves,” he noted to a few.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended community and culture worldwide, but even here, on a warm midday in a Mississippi parking lot, resilient spirits surfaced.

“I hang out at Broad Street every day,” Amile Wilson said of this neighborhood fave. “Well, maybe not in line ….”

Social distancing, closed businesses and self-quarantines have left normally gregarious Mississippians without their usual outlets to congregate and visit. Happy hours turned virtual. Performers transitioned from actual stages to online ones. Small businesses urged gift card purchases. Creativity found a way.

Some restaurants are shuttered; others are turning to take-out, curbside delivery and contactless service to eke through. Those Broad Street breads? Find them at Corner Market locations now.

Babalu has seen steady business with curbside, general manager Kendall Anderson said, since the popular spot closed to dine-in service just as spring arrived. Even if the normally bustling Fondren neighborhood now is “kind of like a ghost town” at night, “People have been incredible, coming out.

“Any kind of sales we can have is helping us stay alive during the crisis.” This week, they added wine to go (uncorked bottle from stock, ages 21 and up) as an option with food orders. “Every dollar helps right now.”

Downtown Jackson is eerily slow, too, but Steve’s Downtown Deli & Bakery on Congress Street is trying out subscription-based packaged pickup of quiche, soup, focaccia, cookies and choice of other desserts, “like a little family pack,” owner Steve Long said, and hoping to broaden selections as it catches on. “We’re gonna call it CO-VIDDLES.”

Photo by Jill Morgan

Teddy bears in windows, for strollers to see and count, have become one of several ideas to engage passers-by in this time of social distancing.

With cooped-up families taking more strolls, some neighborhoods added extra enticement — a Bear Hunt, with teddy bears in windows ready for the counting. Kristen Crawford shared the idea on nextdoor.com, after hearing about it from friends in the Delta. It’s a nice nod to Mississippi culture and the teddy bear’s origin in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1902 bear hunt in the state.

Jill Morgan, among those to respond, found it a great way for the people to stay active and connected. Her daughter, Anabel, brought her biggest bear out of hibernation and set him in the window, lining up the quarry, Holt Collier-style, for hunters.

The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra had to cancel two major concerts in this diamond anniversary season. MSO concertmaster and violinist Marta Szlubowska turned anticlimax into opportunity with a series of daily “Music Moments with Marta” videos on Facebook. “I just wanted to share something beautiful with people. … I know positive thinking is a good thing for you, and so is music.

“It’s good for me, too,” said Szlubowska , posting new and old recordings, sharing stories and engaging with her audience online. “I didn’t expect this kind of connection with people. It’s really nice.

“It opens up a conversation about music, about sound, about emotions, about what music does to you and how we connect. Music is a common language and we can’t let it die, even with this crisis.” She hopes more musicians pick up on the idea.

Singer/actor/musician Andrew Fehrenbacher, a New Stage Theatre veteran from “Beauty and the Beast,” “Bright Star” and more, loves to perform live, but social media video posts of it? Outside his comfort zone. He’s overcoming that. His dad, sister-in-law and two uncles are healthcare workers. “I’m not equipped to go out and do that, but I thought that maybe our very small contribution (#quarantunes with wife Mary Catherine), trying to play a fun little tune, might make people smile when there’s not a whole lot to smile about.” Also, “It does keep us sane” during quarantine; they recently moved back to Mississippi from New York City.

“We’re trying to keep it, with the times, either really upbeat, or nostalgic, or really encouraging — something to lift people’s spirits,” he said of Facebook and Instagram posts of the two performing “Lean on Me,” “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and more.

New Stage Theatre’s education department started Online Creativity Challenges to stay in touch with students, and the theater is filming its three tour shows and a workshop for an educational resource. Also, Francine Thomas Reynolds, artistic director, aims to get professional Zoom services for the theater. Hopes include micro-commissioning things like five-minute monologues by actors to perform for audiences via Zoom; project fruition depends on how long gathering-size restrictions continue, she said.

Image courtesy Mississippi Museum of Art

The Mississippi Museum of Art’s education team uses social media to continue engaging with viewers.

Galleries are closed now, but the Mississippi Museum of Art’s permanent collection is digitized and searchable, with 3,300 images. The museum uses its mobile app to connect viewers with another angle or a deeper look into certain artworks on display; now it serves, too, as a window into exhibitions unavailable in person. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum’s education staff has taken over the museum’s social media, offering daily digital education resources for parents and families.

Before the outbreak, the museum had more tours booked in April (many to catch the now postponed opening of “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times”) than in the whole 2018-19 school year, said Adrienne Chadwick, curator of interpretation. “Now, we just felt the need to continue to engage these teachers, schools and families as much as we can.”

Photo by Jerrod Partridge

Jessie Partridge and her daughter, Mae (legs, lower right) teamed up for a live flower arranging workshop on social media.

“I’m still trying to figure it out. Aren’t we all?” said Jessie Partridge in Ocean Springs, owner/designer of Maidenhair Floral. Seeking to help a designer friend and a bride on the coast, she bought some of the wholesale floral order, too late to cancel, for the wedding that was postponed. It was a way, too, to bring a bit of joy to her community, who in turn bought flowers at cost. Next thought: “Let’s do something kind of interactive.” With her daughter, Mae, Partridge separated flowers out, took orders and delivered them to front porches in sanitized vases. At a set time the next day, she did a Facebook Live workshop, walking 25-30 people with the same bunch of flowers (and more who followed along) through prepping, designing and arranging them. “I think it was fun for people who were doing it, to know that other people were doing it, too.

“It had a group, kind of community, feel to it,” Partridge said, as folks shared their photos of arrangements, she fielded questions and more. “We’re just working with what we have, right? That’s the way of the day right now.”

That’s the case, too, with the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, a standout draw in Ocean Springs that now, too, has to keep visitors at a distance. ART+ is its digital initiative to make its collection and art experiences more accessible in the meantime. The push connects Anderson’s artworks to fields of study, including art, history, science, social studies and language arts, along with lesson plans. One of the first, “ART+ Early Education” is an animated installment with a reading of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” as retold by Ellen Douglas and illustrated by Anderson from the book “The Magic Carpet.” Another, “Pelicans and Conservation,” focuses on environmental science.

Image courtesy Walter Anderson Museum of Art

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art’s digital initiative Art+ ties Anderson’s art to fields of study, such as an animated storytime with “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” from “The Magic Carpet” book.

“What we’re moving toward is doing even more online person-to-person education, whether it’s tour experiences or Tony DiFatta (education director) doing a digital academy in art-making and art instruction,” Julian Rankin, WAMA executive director, said.

“It’s all about taking a situation that’s completely uncertain and pivoting. Artists are great at doing that.”