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Manitou Art Center shines light on communities in isolation with The Still Project

Capturing quarantine


The Still Project offers a glimpse of Manitou life under lockdown.
  • The Still Project offers a glimpse of Manitou life under lockdown.

After Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide stay-at-home order March 25, artists throughout Colorado struggled to remain relevant. At the Manitou Art Center, curators Alain and Maria Navaratne took the lockdown period as an opportunity to create a new community art piece: The Still Project.

“The idea for this project was to capture this lockdown moment as a historical document,” Alain says. Essentially, the Navaratnes wanted to capture what the stay-at-home order looked like within the small and tight-knit community of Manitou Springs. In collaboration with photographer Jana Kaiser, the Manitou-based project resulted in photos of 361 individuals from 134 photo shoots occurring between April 10 and 26.

Maria emphasized that the MAC’s purpose is to bring people together through community art. “And so when all this happened and we can’t bring people together to enjoy our First Friday opening,” she says, “we’ve got to be super creative and come up with alternatives to bring [the] community together.”

She adds, “That’s how it was born, The Still Project.” The founding branch of The Still Project is called Still Manitou.

The project’s name was drawn from a multitude of discussions and artistic visions. “We thought about still life, as it relates to art,” Alain says. “And we wanted to put ‘Manitou’ in it somewhere.”

The MAC chose to use the medium of photography to provide a job for a gig worker whose previous job may have been eliminated or put on hold because of the lockdown. Kaiser fit the bill perfectly. She mostly shot photographs through windows, door frames or panes of glass, which Maria says captured the isolating nature of the lockdown period.

As the project advanced and gained local attention, Alain says that individuals outside of Manitou also showed interest in participating. Just a few days after The Still Project launched in Manitou, another branch was established to focus on the Ute Pass area.

Still Ute Pass, led by Green Mountain Falls resident Ron Hamilton and photographer Misty Berry, documented residents through more than 70 photo shoots before the lockdown order was lifted. “Being included in a large-scale collaborative project that couldn’t happen without the buy-in from the community, reminds us that we are part of something bigger than simply ourselves,” read an April 17 Still Ute Pass press release.

Lorrie Worthey, who lives in Green Mountain Falls and was photographed with her family as a part of the project, says the experience made her feel closer
to her community.

“It was so cool to sit there and go through the site and see our friends that we’re not able to see right now during this time,” Worthey says. “It’s the next best thing — you can’t physically go and hang out and go to your neighbor’s house, but being able to see their family online like that is just a wonderful way to connect the community.”

According to the Navaratnes, the branches of The Still Project differ in artistic interpretation and the reflection of their target communities. Ultimately, the tone of the images is up to the photographer’s personality, according to Maria.

While the Manitou photographs usually depict families or individuals inside their homes, many of the Ute Pass images
are of people on their porches, in their doorways or leaning out of windows.

“For Ute Pass, it was more appropriate for [Berry] to take photos that were just general photos of families stuck at home, whether they’re stuck in their doors or windows,” Alain says.

“We feel like the Manitou Art Center
is the parent of this project, and Still Manitou and Still Ute Pass and maybe Still Colorado Springs — if it happens — are like the children,” Maria says. “But just like kids, they’ve got very different personalities.”

After the stay-at-home order was lifted, all photography for The Still Project in Manitou and Ute Pass stopped. “The photography had to finish when the lockdown finished, and when we went into the safer-at-home phase we knew we weren’t going to take any more photos,” Maria says.

Though the photography portion of Still Manitou and Still Ute Pass is now over, the Navaratnes say that a new Colorado Springs branch may start operating soon. Being a much larger community than either Manitou or Ute Pass, this project would take another conceptual form, which has not been decided yet.

“How we’re doing it is not necessarily how Ute Pass is doing it, which is not necessarily how Colorado Springs is doing it,” Alain says. “But the necessary part is it’s about the stillness of the situation we’re all in.”

The Still Project team hopes to eventually create a large public art piece out of the images, but Alain says the shape of that object is still undecided. Maria says the goal is to create a “community-centralized art project” in Manitou Springs, and one in Ute Pass.

The MAC may print books or commission a large billboard — or come up with a different idea entirely — based on the state of the pandemic and the amount of project funding the organization receives. The Still Project is funded entirely through the MAC, which is currently accepting donations on its website.

The pair say they believe the project brought the Ute Pass and Manitou communities together during the stay-at-home period, by allowing them to participate in a large group-based project from their individual homes. “People got really excited about it. And I thought, ‘That’s enough,’” Maria says.

“Artists right now are in a bad way, just like a lot of other people,” Alain says. “And they want to help.”

“We’re still here,” Maria adds. “The Manitou Art Center is still here, the people in Manitou are still here — we’re just all in our separate houses. And we’re also still.”

Galleries from both projects are available to view and buy online, and all proceeds will go directly to the photographers.

“During this time, there’s obviously people really, really suffering. And the food banks and all these places are really overstretched and doing amazing work,” Maria says. “... A lot of people really suffer with mental health problems when they were locked in, and I feel like we were feeding them, just in a different way.”

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