Creative Spirits paint studio, located just off campus next to Chick-fil-A and Conoco gas station, is co-owned by NAU alumnae Stephanie Gerst and Keli Openshaw. The pair acquired the business after the former owner moved out of state, and they are going into their fifth year of business. The studio also allows guests 21 and older to bring their own alcoholic beverages into the studio after 4 p.m. to enjoy during classes.

In March, the studio had to switch gears and go fully virtual to accommodate former Mayor Coral Evans’ emergency proclamation. The studio began offering paint classes via Zoom and are continuing to do so in addition to in-studio classes being held weekly on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Gerst said a silver lining of going virtual has been the opportunity to bring back former artists who now live out of state to lead Zoom classes. 

“We definitely identified a new need that we may keep even after most folks start to come back and want to do in-person events,” Gerst said in an email interview.

Gerst said anyone in the country can sign up for the virtual classes listed on the Creative Spirits website and that virtual sessions can have a capacity of up to 98 households. If an individual wants to take part in a specific event but can’t attend during the designated time, a recording of the Zoom call is sent to everyone registered. 

According to its website, participants in virtual sessions have the opportunity to register for a take-home kit when signing up for Zoom classes. These kits come with a canvas, paint brushes and acrylic paint. All someone has to do after registering is call the studio to schedule a pickup time.

In terms of selecting artwork for each class, Gerst said she starts by looking through the variety of pieces they haven’t painted in a while before deciding if it can be taught to participants within a two-hour period.

NAU alumna Maddie Adams teaches virtual classes for children and adults at Creative Spirits. Adams said she found the studio during her time in Flagstaff searching for a creative outlet within the community, and has recently had the opportunity to reengage with the studio through teaching virtual sessions. 

When teaching virtual classes, Adams said the only challenge comes in regard to music. 

“From my perspective, the only challenge in teaching a virtual class is the lack of music due to copyright laws and poor audio,” Adams said in an email interview. “Otherwise, I was rather surprised at how seamlessly this works.”

Adams also said she tries keeping participants engaged in her classes by keeping the conversation going throughout each session and by calling them by their names. 

NAU alumna Destanee Reckeweg is another instructor at Creative Spirits. She said she began working at the studio when it first opened and was excited to have the opportunity to instruct classes.

“I went to school for painting, so I was very excited about instructing art classes and being able to apply my education in a professional setting,” Reckeweg said in an email interview.

Reckeweg said the implementation of virtual paint classes was great because it has given the studio the ability to hold classes with over 50 participants, while in-studio classes can accommodate up to 45 people. She also said the studio has been able to connect families from other cities and states through these sessions.

Teaching painting virtually is something Reckeweg said she hasn’t had a problem with despite inevitable connectivity or audio issues. She also said she has had to modify a few aspects of how she teaches.

“This includes repeating steps more often because it’s a little harder to gauge where everyone is at in a painting virtually, since I cannot see their canvases,” Reckeweg said. 

In addition to modifying her way of teaching, Reckeweg said she gives detailed instruction throughout each session and even provides participants with suggestions regarding modifications or different elements they can add to their art piece to personalize it. She also said she utilizes Zoom’s reaction feature in which those in the call can give feedback in the form of a thumbs up or down. This feature allows her to see where participants are in the painting process.

When it comes to keeping painters safe and socially distanced during weekly in-studio sessions, Gerst said they’ve developed a strict COVID-19 policy with the help of Openshaw, who works at Flagstaff Medical Center as a senior process improvement facilitator in the care transformation department.

“We have limited capacity for in-person painting events, in addition to setting up paint stations six feet apart,” Gerst said. “We clean all surfaces after being touched, encourage frequent hand-washing and masks are required.”

Overall, Creative Spirits paint studio has found an effective way to keep artists and clientele safe during the COVID-19 pandemic through its wide variety of virtual sessions offered each month. Despite minor inconveniences that are bound to occur during online sessions, the artists at Creative Spirits are determined to keep each experience fun, engaging and personal for each aspiring artist.