Upstairs at the A.J. LaRue Arena, the beating of the drums echoed through the walls.

A small group kept the rhythm steady, headed by Rails’ End Gallery Curator Laurie Jones. Masked and spaced apart, the players improvise, as they have done throughout the pandemic.

Diane Burchert joined the circle in the summer when it started back up after a pandemic-induced hiatus. She does not remember drumming without a mask.

“It’s very empowering,” Burchert said. “It’s really quite satisfying to pound on it and perhaps let go some of the frustration of days and weeks past.”

The drum circle has been one of the programs the gallery has kept running in the pandemic – moving indoors this month at a new location to get out of the cold. Jones said it has run successfully and helped keep people connected in a difficult time.

“It’s a form of nonverbal communication that is very powerful,” Jones said. “It’s not like we’re planning to go on a stage or rehearsing numbers of performers. It’s a very in-the-moment experience and so it’s good for your brain, it’s good for your body.

“COVID is a very stressful time for a lot of people so we wanted to do something that is joyful and also restorative.”

The gallery has continued to run programming and exhibits during the pandemic. Jones said they have prudent fiscal management and reserves but have struggled six months into COVID-19.

“It’s not sustainable the way it is. But if we don’t plan for the future, there will be no future, so we have to act like everything is going to be okay and keep innovating,” Jones said. “I don’t know how you monetize all this stuff. That’s the big question for everyone in the arts.”

For the drum circle and some other programs, any fees are kept low to maintain accessibility. Despite some of the pandemic’s limitations, the gallery has kept the art – and music – beating steadily.

“It’s a chance, an opportunity to connect with people to enjoy learning a new skill and make some music in a very safe, COVID-friendly environment,” Burchert said.

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