ah haa

Ah Haa’s annual Hot Shot Photo Contest challenges locals and amateurs alike each July 4. Above: a winning ‘Hot Shot’ by Telluride resident Melissa Plantz. (Photo by Melissa Plantz/courtesy of visittelluride.com)

The Town of Telluride and the surrounding region are known for a robust arts scene. So what happens when venues close down due to a pandemic?

Creativity doesn’t stop. It just heads indoors. That’s where school is not only in session, there’s a whole new curriculum to go along with it: earlier this week, the Ah Haa School debuted a new video series, entitled Makers Moments, which shows local creatives at work.

Ah Haa’s classes can be hard to get in to; instructors’ series often sell out in advance, and drop-in classes usually require at least a modest entrance fee.

But the school’s newest classes are open to all ages, and free of charge. The Maker’s Moments series convenes Tuesdays and Thursdays online — no social distancing required — for the duration of the covid-19 self-quarantine period.

(“We want to be cautious,” Ah Haa’s Executive Director Judy Kohin has said of the rationale for the new series. “We don’t want to contribute to the infection spreading….This is a way of keeping our community tied together, and to not stop making art. In fact, it’s a reason to make art.”)

Ah Haa’s first course took place Tuesday, led by teacher — and local jeweler — Tony Finocchio. Those who tuned in got a chance to see Finocchio in his studio, discussing his work (the series also features “Ah Haa instructors providing quick and easy art tutorials with basic materials,” according to a press release).

Finocchio’s appearance, which took place via a Facebook Live video feed, reached more than 900 people. The second live-feed video, led by instructor Tara Carter and scheduled for yesterday, was a “pinch-pot” demo.

Community members had been encouraged to stop by the day before to pick up 40 free, pre-bagged balls of clay, which were left on the school’s porch.

 The response to those free bags of clay “was overwhelming,” Carter said. She’d originally intended to leave just 40 bags of clay outside the Ah Haa depot’s front door, but they disappeared so quickly that she continued preparing more bags. By 5 p.m. Wednesday, “an astonishing 142 bags” had been snatched up by eager students. Some were almost certainly local youth — Carter is the art school’s Youth Curriculum Manager — but others may have been adults taking their first lesson from Carter, and getting a taste of why she’s so popular. They may return to take a class from her later, such as (perhaps) her annual foray outdoors, Birding 101, to be held once the weather warms and San Miguel County’s current “shelter-in-place” restrictions are lifted.

The new courses serve two functions: Ah Haa’s classes keep locals creatively engaged, and keep the art school — one of Telluride’s busiest nonprofits — top-of-mind during the quarantine. The art school, which offers numerous contests for community throughout the year (including the Hot Shot contest each July 4) will even host a competition precisely calibrated for these times: the cheekily-titled Quarantine Show. “Let’s see what our community is doing now,” Kohin said. (More details about the exhibit, which will go up once the quarantine is lifted, will be available in the coming weeks.)

In the days ahead, Ah Haa will turn the tables once again, inviting students to become, in effect, teachers, by submitting short videos “of cooking, singing, beading, sewing, painting — anything” to info@ahhaa.org.

As Kohin has put it, “It’s a time for us to make more art and get you inspired by all the classes coming up at Ah Haa this summer. We’re excited to hear from more makers in this community and be engaged with what each other is doing.”

In a time of isolation, Ah Haa continues to foster connection. Visit ahhaa.org to learn more.