Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center
Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center exterior. (Balthazar Korab)

A limited number of adult classes will remain onsite in the fall but will be socially distanced and with smaller capacities.

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, which has been a pinnacle of Metro Detroit’s Jewish community for more than 60 years, will pivot its fall programs to include virtual and socially distanced art classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many other local businesses, the BBAC — an art and creative center in Birmingham that offers both youth and adult programs — has identified how to offer its services to the community while being mindful of state safety guidelines and varying comfort levels of its clients, some of whom prefer to learn remotely now.

“We want to still offer the same quality programming that we have been known for over the years,” said Annie VanGelderen, CEO of the BBAC.

BBAC Program
BBAC Art Kit BBAC

The center began by transferring all youth programs to a virtual setting, which it first rolled out this summer. A limited number of adult classes will remain onsite in the fall but will be socially distanced and with smaller capacities. Plans for winter programs are already in the works as well.

For the summer youth programs, the BBAC offered “virtual art camp,” where parents would get supplies from the center via curbside pickup, and children would work on projects alongside their peers and an instructor in a virtual setting at home. Items such as jewelry could then be dropped back off at the center to be fired in jewelry kilns.

The center will be utilizing a similar approach this fall, where virtual classes will be offered via Zoom. Both children and adults will have a chance to interact with their instructors, receive feedback and complete a variety of classes in the comfort of their own homes. Like the summer programs, supplies for more specific classes that can’t be found in local art stores will be available for curbside pickup from the center.

BBAC adult painting class
Adult painting class with the BBAC. BBAC

VanGelderen said fall classes are filling up just as quickly as before the pandemic, and they’re even seeing members sign up from states outside of Michigan. It “opens up the geographical lines,” she said of the virtual programs. Through word-of-mouth, family members and friends of Michigan attendees are signing up for programs in states as far as New York and New Jersey.

Word of the center began spreading around the country over the past few months, when the BBAC started offering art activity kits to-go in March. Available for purchase over the phone, kits contain various projects and rotate out as new ones are developed every few weeks. One kit, for example, had a beach theme where watercolor paints, bleeding art tissue and crayon wax resist could be used to create ocean scenes. After orders are placed, the BBAC then mails kits out. This summer alone, it mailed out 600 kits.

There are also art challenges on the BBAC’s website where individuals of all ages are encouraged to create projects at home with whatever material they have available and then submit it to the center for a chance to be featured on its website or social media.

For the limited classes that remain onsite, social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing will be strictly enforced. “Our studios are pretty spacious, so we feel comfortable that there’s going to be at least an 8-foot buffer zone between each student,” said VanGelderen, who lives in Commerce Township and is a supporter of the local branch of ORT America and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Classes will be significantly smaller in size and the usual lunch service offered by the BBAC will not be in operation in order to discourage large gatherings.

The center has begun considering how winter classes will be structured and will closely monitor news and updates as it develops plans. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed for winter,” VanGelderen said. “A lot of parents are asking if we’re going to have onsite [classes] for winter and it’s really a wait-and-see. We’ve been nimble this whole summer season and reacting to whatever the state mandates have allowed us to do.”

She hopes that this winter, the center will be able to return to somewhat normal occupancy but will prioritize safety first. “We will still keep, I’m sure, the minimum number of students in the studio space.”

This season, the fall curriculum will offer 30 youth programs in a virtual setting and more than 90 adult programs with limited capacity onsite. Online registration is available and it’s recommended to call the center directly for the most up-to-date information on any changes.

For information and to register, visit bbartcenter.org.

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