It is perhaps the visual artists who face the most uncertainty as the coronavirus pandemic closes art galleries, cancels festivals and halts nonessential spending by businesses and individuals. But even so, some are using their creativity to help others in the community make sense of the uncertain days and weeks ahead. 

Hannah Thibodeaux, better known by her artist name Hannah Gumbo, created a digital activity book for children and anyone else looking for something to do while sheltering in place.

"There's such a nervous energy right now with what's happening and this feeling of helplessness," Thibodeaux said. "I feel like I'm doing the right thing to help others right now."

The Eunice artist teaches art lessons in classrooms through the Acadiana Center for the Arts, so she tried to create a written version of what she teaches to children during her 45-minute lessons.

Initially, her digital activity download was sent to those who subscribe to her artist newsletter, but it has since been shared with families across the world through her husband's company.

For those without access to the internet, Thibodeaux has printed out the activity book and packaged it with colored pencils, a notebook and other supplies. She has sent out about 45 physical art care packages in the past week. Some have been mailed, but most were donated to a food pantry in Eunice.

"Any time I ask myself what all this means to my business and to me, I fall into a sinking feeling," Thibodeaux said. "I don't know how to change anything or even what to do. Right now, we need to help each other."

Bob Borel, a Lafayette visual artist, agrees. That's why he started a Facebook group called Artist Quarantine for local artists to share ideas, resources and inspiration during the uncertain weeks ahead.

A few hundred people joined the group within a few days. It's one of the positive things he's seen on social media recently. He's also seen people taking time to bake bread, plant gardens, learn instruments and share art.

"It's a great time to slow down and be present," Borel said. "It's a great time to try new stuff."

Borel can often be found creating "unflattering abstract portraits" on Jefferson Street during the Second Saturday ArtWalk and other downtown Lafayette events. Social distancing has put that on hold for now.

He has also had to figure out how to continue teaching art lessons to residents of the Lafayette Parish Transitional Work Program. He had just taught his first class earlier this month as a community service, but visitation is now restricted at the residential program overseen by the sheriff's office.

"The reception was amazing," Borel said. "They were all really eager to learn, so I'm trying to find a way to continue the class through assignments since we can't do in-person classes right now."

Like other artists in the area, Aileen Bennett said she isn't sure where her income will come from in the coming weeks. Instead, the Lafayette artist and business consultant has focused on recreating a contest for local children that's inspired by one offered by a newspaper that she often entered as a child.

The contest calls for artwork that starts with a single, squiggly line. About 30 people entered the first contest, which she plans to do each week for the foreseeable future. 

Acadiana businesses such as Cajun Crate, a curated delivery box, and Supreme Rice have even offered to donate prizes to the winner each week.

"We're all doing this for our own creativity, for our community and also for people to maybe remember us after all this is said and done," Bennett said. "I think times like this make us realize that creatives in our community are a vital part of what we do."

Like Thibodeaux and Borel, Bennett said she's seen some of the best of humanity through sharing her creativity with others over the last several days.

"Even though we're more isolated than ever, we seem to be coming together more than ever before," Bennett said. "Maybe some of the kids who are finding joy in doing these creative exercises will find a way to save the world. Because these are the ones who will grow up to be our creative thinkers and problem solvers." 


Email Megan Wyatt at mwyatt@theadvocate.com.