Art League Continues To Thrive Amid Pandemic Restrictions

OCEAN CITY — Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Art League of Ocean City continued to thrive over the last year with creative, out-of-the-box ideas to reach out to the community and promote the arts.

Art League of Ocean City Executive Direct Rena Thaler on Tuesday presented her annual update to the Mayor and Council on the goings-on at the organization’s Center for the Arts complex at 94th Street and all around the resort and region over the last year. In the five decades-plus since the Art League was first formed in a portion of City Hall to the Center for the Arts complex, the organization has steadfastly promoted all of the arts in the resort and has become a cultural hub in Ocean City.

This year was a little different for the Art League with limited personal interaction in classes, exhibits, shows and film screenings, for example. Instead, the organization continued its mission in new and creative ways. Thaler said on Tuesday despite the challenges, the Art League exceeded its expectations.

“This year has been extremely challenging, just as it has been for all non-profits,” she said. “What we realized during the pandemic and quarantine is people shut in still needed the arts. Through online classes and social media exhibits, we reached over 800,000 people. In a typical year, about 20,000 come through the building.”

Most of the Art League’s activities went virtual during the pandemic, but the organization was able to fulfill its mission of providing a cultural outlet in the resort and beyond. There were thousands of online classes and some properly spaced in-person classes. The Art League continued to present exhibits through social media, screened locally produced films online and at the drive-in movies at the convention center, and the like.

The Art League continued its Empty Bowl project and initiated a “Hug Heart Project,” wherein local artists created pieces of art and sent virtual hugs to the staff at Atlantic General Hospital. That was just one of the many initiatives undertaken by the Art League over the last year.

Throughout the pandemic, the organization found creative ways to keep its members and the community engaged in much-needed cultural experiences. During COVID, Thaler said the Art League created a “We Made It” cookbook with original art and recipes from members.

“Some members found a way to get through the pandemic was painting or cooking and eating,” she said. “We developed a cookbook with different ideas for the arts.”

While much of the organizations activities were virtual this year, there was still plenty going on at the Center for the Arts.

“We are still open seven days a week with plexiglass panels and social distancing and the wearing of masks,” she said. “We are staying safe, but we’re keeping people engaged in a variety of ways.”

In a typical year, the Art League hosts a Sandcastle Tour featuring homes throughout the resort area. During the pandemic, the tour went virtual and actually attracted more visitors.

“The virtual Sand Castle tour attracted 1,800 website visits,” she said. “Normally, 1,000 people take the tour. This promotes the Ocean City lifestyle and gives people thinking of buying here and moving here a little glimpse of what life could be like.”

Thaler said the challenges of the last year made her realize the community’s reliance on art and cultural experiences.

“This past year has underscored for me how important art is for Ocean City and the community,” she said. “It has given people meaning in the life and a purpose in their life in these difficult times. The arts heal, they relieve stress and they create a connection.”

Despite the challenges of COVID, the Art League continued to grow in membership and its various offerings.

“I have never seen anything like the growth of the Art League from the day I got involved to where it is today,” she said. “It has become a cultural institution and it has such potential for the town of Ocean City as a driver to tourism. It brings positive publicity and added value to the Ocean City experience. It attracts new audiences of all ages to the resort.”

Art League of Ocean City President John Sisson agreed the organization was able to successfully adjust and adapt to the challenges of the pandemic in creative ways.

“During the pandemic, it looked like we were going to have to cut back on what we were doing, but we really couldn’t do that,” he said. “We decided to concentrate on our mission and our core values and we redoubled our efforts.”

After the presentation, Mayor Rick Meehan praised the Art League for all it does to promote the arts and tourism in Ocean City.

“The Center for the Arts exceeds all of our expectations and you continue to do that,” he said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.