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Daily Progress: Distinguished Dozen: Alan Goffinski helped people weather 2020 with art

Jane Sathe

Running an arts organization these days draws less on marching to the beat of a different drummer and more on capturing a community’s distinctive rhythms.

For Alan Goffinski, that recently meant setting up a drum kit in an art gallery space at The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative that rang with emptiness.

Goffinski, who is executive director of The Bridge and director of the Charlottesville Mural Project, formerly played bass in a Victory Records touring band, but he’s new at percussion. “You just keep playing it until you get it right,” he said.

He spends his time at The Bridge helping area residents to tap into their artistic potential and recognize the talent and value in each other, building unity through visual art, music and other disciplines.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began shuttering public spaces and turning lives upside down, Goffinski knew that art was the right tool at the right time to keep people united and engaged.

“From Day 1 at The Bridge, my focus has always been people, and celebrating the assets that already exist in a community,” he said. That’s why his mantra at The Bridge has been, “We need to be not only for the community, but by the community.”

When pandemic precautions closed galleries and canceled gatherings, the challenge became, “How can we put positive things in the world and be that hub for connection in this really trying time?” Goffinski said. He embraced trial and error along the way.

“We’re not relying on art sales to keep the door open. It’s very much a place where failure or mistakes are OK,” he said. “We really learn from them.”

Early in the spring’s stay-at-home phase, Goffinski created a kind of organic gallery crawl by inviting people to display their own visual art creations in front windows or on doorsteps and then list them online at thebridgepai.org. People weary of being cooped up at home could drive or stroll by at a safe distance and find refreshment in their neighbors’ creativity.

Another of Goffinski’s projects attracted national attention. #QuarantineHaikus called on homebound poets to express their pandemic experiences in 17 syllables over three lines.

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Local folks recorded their verses on their phones and shared them with The Bridge; before long, poetry fans from across the country joined the fun. #QuarantineHaikus caught on so well that it got a shoutout from The New York Times during National Poetry Month.

“We got some really fantastic responses from across the country, and we got to showcase some Charlottesville voices,” Goffinski said.

Through the Charlottesville Mural Project, artists have painted large-scale works on local buildings and walls that pedestrians and drivers can see from a distance, keeping artists working and creativity flowing unscathed.

Goffinski’s work has helped people to fight the fear of the unknown with the empowering recognition that art never closes or gets canceled. 

“This pandemic is really sort of a shift,” he said. “I think that vulnerability left people open to new experiences. It’s almost rude to try to find a silver lining at a moment when so many people are suffering, but if The Bridge can be a bright spot in people’s lives, let’s be that.”

Those who work with Goffinski say he reaches beyond The Bridge to meet people wherever they are. (A recent fruit derby in which participants rolled fruits down a hill? That was his event, according to a colleague.) They say his gift for dreaming up happenings is matched by his enthusiasm for projects that others create.

“He’s behind so many projects, murals and events in this town, and he’s relentlessly optimistic, down for anything and always there for you, no matter who you are or what you need,” Heather Mease, a doctoral student who works with Goffinski at The Bridge, wrote in an email. “Alan is basically SpongeBob with more ambition, better follow-through and a driver’s license.”

“Alan is constantly working on artistic projects that benefit and affect the community that The Bridge PAI serves (essentially, that includes everyone!) and has truly taken The Bridge’s mission of Bridging Diverse Communities Through the Arts to heart,” Travis Thatcher, technical director of Composition & Computer Technologies for the University of Virginia Department of Music, said in an email.

“He’s always eager to get involved in any of the programming ideas myself or others would bring up and really throws himself fully into them! Aside from The Bridge-related stuff, he’s also been working on other projects, like his Pizzas of Charlottesville, which benefits the Charlottesville Restaurant Fund. The pandemic has not slowed his energy down, to say the least.”

Ah, yes, the pizza album project. For that slice of creativity, Goffinski penned and recorded his own jingles for local pizza places as “a love letter to pizza, local businesses and Charlottesville,” he wrote on alangoffinski.com. Proceeds went to the fund to give local workers a boost during the pandemic.

“He’s also composed an album of really awesome children’s music that features a cast of Cville musicians,” Mease wrote.