Polk’s Programs Go Virtual by Elizabeth Morrisey

Polk’s Programs Go Virtual
By Elizabeth Morrisey

During the pandemic, Polk’s schools, libraries, and art centers have kept their programs accessible for all.

Although COVID has disrupted and changed many people’s lives, several Polk County organizations have found a way to still reach out to local citizens and give them a sense of normalcy. Groups such as local public libraries, the Polk Museum of Art, and even local schools have made strides in offering many different online programs.

The Lakeland Public Library already had some online options, but when the virus forced them to close they had to adapt and take a look at what they could do to still meet the needs of the public. Their doors shut from mid-March to mid-May, says Stephanie Brown, computer applications specialist.

Over the summer, the library focused on children and switched to a mobile application called Bean Stack. It included a reading log and activities to keep the kids engaged. “It allowed them to stay safe and participate from home,” says Brown. “We had a good response and hope to do it next summer.”

The library also began Lakeland Books by Mail in which patrons could order books to be mailed to their home and they continue to offer that service. “Our digital resources took off such as magazines, e-movies and music,” says Brown. “We are thinking of ways to make more online accessible programs.”

Over in Lake Wales, the library held online classes such as Chinese Calligraphy with a San Francisco-based artist, and Creating a Gift Basket class was posted on the library’s YouTube channel and online learning programs. While they were closed, their Wiggles and Giggles Toddler story time continued on the YouTube channel.

The Polk Museum of Art didn’t waste any time getting online programs lined up during the shut down. A Facebook live series was started called Drinks with the Director. Those who logged on to the museum’s website from anywhere in the world could view exhibitions, participate in an art lab and read a blog.

Hindsight 2020: Art of This Moment online exhibition began in March in which the museum invited artists across Central Florida to submit work. It represented a diverse spectrum of artists’ ideas and reflections for the unprecedented times in March through August.

Art Unboxed was a fun endeavor for children in lieu of its art camp for the summer. They had a dozen boxes that could be shipped all over the country with art activities ranging from $35 to $85. 

“We knew we needed to respond to the needs of the community,” says Taylor Holycross, manager of membership and communication. “We wanted to do it through art. It is a creative outlet to express yourself through these times.

“Our virtual programs were fun to do and we collaborated with others, such as the Florida Dance Theatre and the Imperial Symphony Orchestra,” she says. “It allowed us to reach more people.”

Polk County Schools also jumped on board with virtual programming so any student could participate in various activities. Stambaugh Middle School in Auburndale held a virtual performance of The Addams Family Musical in which 6th through 8th graders in the choir and theatre department could show off their skills and still take part in a play.

Jessica Gautier, Stambaugh’s choir and theatre director, said the new concept allowed students access to the arts even though live performances weren’t allowed due to COVID. After learning their lines, songs and choreography, students recorded themselves using the virtual learning platform Schoology. Both online learners and face-to-face students participated.

“The logistics were a challenge but it was worth it,” Gautier says. “I’m proud of how quickly they learned it.” The Zoom rehearsals took place Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 53 students were involved.

“Because it was virtual, any relatives regardless of where they lived could watch the show,” she says. “We’re waiting to see what happens for the future, but this is the safest way right now.”