It smells like fall at John C. Campbell Folk School. That’s one thing Karen Hurtubise noticed when she returned to the campus.
She is one of several instructors offering workshops for local residents as the folk school welcomes people back on its campus since closing in March.
The Late Summer and Fall Workshops are limited to six people and are held outdoors or in open-air venues. Everyone has to wear a mask, even when outdoors. There are sinks and soap available, as well as hand sanitizer. Keeping a safe distance from each other will be emphasized, as U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines will be followed.
“It’s going to be an exploration in safety,” Hurtubise said before teaching her workshop. “I feel confident. If I didn’t feel confident, I wouldn’t do it.”
Returning to school
The folk school suspended all classes and events on March 13, a day ahead of the state’s ban of gatherings of 100 people or more. Just a few days later, they learned someone who attended one of the final events at the school – a contra dance on March 10 – had tested positive for the virus.
In June, the folk school suspended all scheduled programs and events – including the Fall Festival – for the remainder of the year. The school announced it would be re-evaluating the programs it offers, and planned to offer webinars and in-person programs with small, controlled-environment groups.
While Programs Director Darcy Holdorf was given credit for creating the workshops, she humbly called it a team effort. She said the idea began as a result of community listening sessions the folk school had during their strategic planning process.
“Community members expressed interest in shorter, more affordable classes in the evening or on the weekend geared toward locals who might not be able to afford the time or financial investment to take a week-long class,” Holdorf said. “We listened to that feedback and wrote a grant proposal that will fund the development of a variety of community workshops for kids and adults over the next few years.”
She said the folk school decided to develop a pilot of these programs to safely keep people engaged after 2020 classes were canceled.
“This became an opportunity for us to gauge community interest in this new type of programming and try out a different model,” Holdorf said.
Classes at the folk school often span a week, with visitors coming from all over the country to learn. For the Late Summer and Fall Workshops, classes are limited to locals, and most are only are three hours long.
In person or virtual
People could also sign up for virtual workshops, in which the instructor provides a live talk and takes questions at the end. The virtual workshops were scheduled to be only an hour long, and are an additional type of learning experience.
“The virtual demonstrations came about somewhat organically,” Holdorf said. “We realized that many of our regular students might not be able to attend the in-person workshops and we wanted to find some way to offer learning opportunities to a wider audience and help people stay connected to the folk school.”
The school’s creative team is working with local photographer and videographer Nathan Baerreis to create a virtual experience that is “a step above your typical Zoom meeting,” and showcases crafting techniques, as well as the natural beauty of the campus.
Registration for the Summer and Fall Workshops opened Aug. 17. The workshops feature topics relating to the school’s garden and nature. The in-person workshops were nearly completely filled as September began, due to size limits. The school would love to see anyone who cannot find a space in their desired workshop to join one of the virtual demonstrations.
The initial series of workshops runs through the first week of October. However, there are plans for more, including bringing back even music and dance virtually through a series.
“Although we cannot provide the same experience as our week-long, immersive classes at this time, we do hope that students will leave the workshops and the hour-long virtual demonstrations with a sense of creative inspiration and togetherness, something that we all need now more than ever,” Holdorf said.
‘An amazing opportunity’
Marion Severy signed up for the first three gardening workshops with Teddy Pitsiokos. She had been staying at home so much, and was cautiously excited to go back to learning at the folk school.
She just moved to the area two years ago from California – the folk school was was one of the big draws for her to move here – and wanted to learn more about gardening on the East Coast.
“It just seemed like an amazing opportunity,” Severy said.
She said it was wonderful to be back on the folk school’s campus.
“It was amazing,” Severy said. “It was joyous. It was joyous to be there.”
She was a little concerned about being in each course for three hours – she said the virus concerns her a fair amount – but trusted the folk school, and knew the staff had been working hard behind the scenes to make sure everything was as safe as possible. They exceeded her expectations.
“But I expected the folk school to step up,” Severy said.
As soon as she walked in the campus’ open house, an open-air venue next to the folk school garden, and saw the set up for the workshop, she thought, “Oh yes, this will work very well.”
Tables were set 10 feet apart. Masks were provided if anyone didn’t have one or if anyone wasn’t comfortable with the mask they brought. Hand sanitizer was available, as were wipes to clean surfaces. Everyone there showed they were conscientious of following the health and safety rules.
Severy was grateful the staff worked hard to create the program.
“It’s a lovely thing to do, and so good of them to be conscientious in trying to make it work,” she said.
A new hope
Hurtubise first visited John C. Campbell Folk School in 1981. During her visit, it was quiet, much like it is today.
She starting teaching at the folk school in 1994, and is the school’s Resident Artist of Gardening and Nature Studies. She’s on the side of caution, as a friend in Blairsville, Ga., passed away after testing positive for COVID-19.
“That really hit me,” she said.
When Hurtubise was told by folk school staff about the idea for the workshops, she was excited.
“I was all in,” she said. “It’s just poignant – so hopeful that we will go back again.”
Hurtubise knew, as is the case with the virus, that plans could change at any time.
She taught the Appalachian Plants at Home
workshop. Through the workshop, she showed students native plants on the school’s campus so they could identify them, then provided the basics of growing and maintaining each in the fall. Participants got their fingers in the dirt and were able to bring home plants.
Hurtubise also enjoyed the idea of sharing her knowledge virtually just a few hours after her in-person workshop concluded.
“I love that we’re doing these little appetizer classes,” she said.