Dinah Desrochers of children’s music group the Kerplunks recently started the Gabriola Island Open Mic Facebook group to keep the island’s musicians connected while they self-isolate. (Photo courtesy Bill Pope)

Gabriola artists’ meet-ups move online in response to COVID-19

Hundreds of visual artists and musicians turn to Facebook groups to share and create

Orders to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 aren’t stopping Gabriolans from getting together to make art and music – they’ve just moved from a physical space to a digital one.

In mid-March musician Dinah Desrochers started the Gabriola Island Open Mic Facebook group, which has since drawn more than 500 members. Following Desrochers’s lead, Megan Osmond-Jones from the Gabriola Arts Council founded the Gabriola Art Pandemic page, which has nearly 400 members.

“It’s amazing, every time I go to look at my phone I’ve got another little notification about, ‘Hey, someone else has just uploaded something,’ so it’s pretty exciting,” Desrochers said.

She said she was paying extra attention to the spread of and response to COVID-19 in China because her group the Kerplunks were thinking of touring there. As soon as the Canadian government started taking actions, she thought to herself, “We’ve got to get an open mic group going because we’re not going be able to do our open mic in person pretty soon.” She said social distancing policies were announced days later.

“I was mostly hoping to occupy the locals, just thinking we’re going to miss hanging out with each other at the jam,” she said.

Desrochers said there was no way to predict that the page would be “so excitingly successful” and so many people would want to participate.

“What was interesting was just to see the people who wouldn’t even normally go out to a real-life open mic sharing their stories, poetry, tours of their yard and songs and karaoke and all kinds of fun stuff,” she said. “It’s really neat to see.”

Osmond-Jones formed the Gabriola Art Pandemic page with members of the Gabriola Palette People and Life Drawing art groups. She said those groups were considering holding outdoor sessions to comply with social distancing before ultimately settling on the online option.

“We wanted to create something right away to make people feel like they weren’t just at loose ends on their own,” Osmond-Jones said.

Gabriola Art Pandemic has since expanded beyond the two founding groups. Osmond-Jones said right from the start artists have been enthusiastically joining the group and sharing everything from small sketches to large installations in their yards.

“It’s been pretty cool to see that I just created this page and then it took on a life of its own,” she said.

Osmond-Jones said much of the GAC’s work aims to bring people together around art and the Gabriola Art Pandemic page is helping to do that, even if it is through a screen. She said the Gabriola Island Open Mic and Gabriola Art Pandemic pages are providing a welcome diversion to unify people in uncertain times, adding that “this is a way for people to feel like they still belong to our super vibrant arts community.”

“Both of those pages are great,” Osmond-Jones said. “We’re getting so much information overload on everything else that’s happening, I think it’s good to have a space where you’re just seeing beautiful things created by people you love.”


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