Like every artist in Savannah, Becca Cook has been affected by the worldwide pandemic COVID-19. For her day job, she manages Escape Savannah, which, as of Friday, has closed its doors in the interest of public safety. Her side gig as a Tarot Card reader at local events is also on hold for the same reasons. And additionally, a large performance art piece she was co-creating that was due to take place in May at the Cultural Arts Center hangs under a cloud of uncertainty.
“I’m rolling with the punches,” Cook told me over the phone. “Probably just like everybody else right now.”
Given the all-encompassing nature of those body blows, she could be forgiven if she decided not to get up from the mat. The lack of paid gigs and the quarantine certainly provide an ample excuse to do just that. Plus she’s an asthmatic, placing her squarely in the category of high-risk according to the CDC.
Instead, Cook continues to work.
“I have been making UFO aliens, things that make me happy,” she said, “I’ve been making these little creatures with eyeballs. I’m probably going to use these things to make some videos while we’re kind of stuck indoors, and post them on social media, on Facebook.”
The ship “looks more like a hat than a UFO at the moment,” Cook joked. “Though I do like this UFO hat look.”
On the surface, the pieces are certainly more lighthearted than much of Cook’s socially conscious artwork, which in the past has delved into things like sexual abuse and the refugee crisis at the southern border of the United States. But that doesn’t mean that these works aren’t influenced by out current situation.
“You do feel feelings of alienation,” Cook noted, “When you’re locked away from society. Your job is no longer there. It seems like everything’s kind of crumbling. Maybe that’s why I’m making the alien-type creatures. Just that feeling, express that outwardly.”
“Art is therapy, for me personally,” she added, “That’s why I make so many things.”
Beyond using her creative energy as a coping mechanism, Cook also believes that it’s times like these when the world needs its artists most.
“I think it’s so important for artists and entertainers right now,” she told me, “Because people are really upset. And our thing is to go in and bring some relief.”
During our conversation, Cook mentioned that she’d been looking to other artists on Facebook for inspiration. One such artist is Stacy Gibboni, a SCAD graduate currently living in Venice, Italy, where coronavirus has hit particularly hard.
“She’s been posting about how it is to be quarantined,” said Cook, “But she does it in a way that isn’t panic. And she’s doing it in a way that’s sharing her experience. She’s also posting of her cats on the terrace, and paintings that she’s working on. Also the positive things that the community are doing, like singing together.”
Cook went on to relay that at a specific time each day the residents of Venice step outside for a moment to give applause to the healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line for the residents.
“That’s an art piece within itself,” argued Cook. “It’s just such a powerful community coming together statement. I think that’s so important right now. That’s what’s going to help us figure this out and get through it.”
Cook, herself, has taken to doing little things that can make a big impact on members of her own little community, the type of thing that almost anyone can do for a neighbor. An elderly friend with vision issues, for example, needed basic provisions, so Cook made sure that she had groceries for a few weeks.
She’s also offered up her cooking skills.
“I noticed when I went to the grocery store, they we out of everything except for corned beef and beef liver,” observed Cook. “And I was thinking that most people don’t know how to cook these things. So I posted in Facebook on my page and then also in some of the group pages, if you had to buy things you wouldn’t normally cook feel free to message me and I can help out, because that’s just a skill that I have. So why not use it to try to help?”
During our talk we agreed that Cook isn’t alone in her desire to give back to the community during this health crisis. After 9/11 and, more recently, after hurricanes struck Savannah, people tended to come together more than ever.
“I think what happens is when we’re at a state of vulnerability…It just kind of breaks everything down, because everyone is kind of vulnerable,” she said. “So what else can we do but help? It really does bring the community together. I mean we’re really kind of experiencing a trauma situation right now, so how can you help? What can you do?”
“Anything any artist or creative person can do to help or to bring joy, bring something beautiful, to record what’s going on is really important.”
Listen to my entire conversation with Becca Cook embedded here. Next week we’ll be speaking with Rubi McGrory.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.