Art as an antidote: Local artist says virtual reality can combat social isolation | News | Mountain View Online |


Art as an antidote: Local artist says virtual reality can combat social isolation

'Interact spatially … without having to exchange germs,' says Drue Kataoka

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Drue Kataoka is a local artist, activist, speaker and CEO of Drue Kataoka Art Studios LLC who works in material mediums, such as painting and sculpture, as well as in VR (virtual reality). An alumna of Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton and Stanford University, she's been a Young Global Leader & Cultural Leader of the World Economic Forum, an artist-in-residence with Google and an advocate for arts education, technology and social justice.

She corresponded with the Weekly in an email Q&A to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on her studio, as well as the art community in general, and how VR might be harnessed to help combat social isolation.

Weekly: How has your art studio been directly impacted?

DK: Repeat business is a big part of our work, and the good news is that such projects keep moving forward irrespective of Covid-19. However, Covid-19 has significantly affected new customers, especially from abroad, who often would need to meet me and my team and do a studio visit before commissioning a work. My art studio serves a large international collector base, so we've already felt a few ripples in the last three months due to travel cancellations. But at the end of the day, we too are in a mode of minimizing contact with outside visitors. Naturally, I encourage my team to work from home as much as possible. So some work is being re-shuffled but we are OK. Health is most important.

Weekly: You mentioned that several trips have had to be canceled and that international travel plans are up in the air. Could you please tell me a bit more about those events?

DK: I've had to cancel trips to New York, L.A., Austin and Arizona, and now my international engagements are completely on hold. Some trips were meetings about art projects with clients and collaborators. Other trips were for speaking engagements, including a panel I was doing at SXSW; however, my co-panelists and I may independently take the conversation online or into virtual reality.

Weekly: Many artists, because they are self-employed or freelance, do not have a safety net of health insurance, sick pay, unemployment pay, etc. Do you feel like you're secure for things like this? Are you worried either for yourself or for friends in the art community?

DK: (The) coronavirus will have a big but uneven impact on the arts community locally and globally. One thing the coronavirus has underscored for every industry is how deeply interconnected and interdependent we all are.

Any type of health disaster can be a significant challenge for the arts community, which is more entrepreneurial and doesn't rely on big companies providing fat benefits on a consistent basis. That's why I think it is important for everyone in the creative community and entrepreneurs in general to be very judicious and minimize social contact. While I'm fortunate to have insurance, I'm worried about some of my friends and fellow creatives who don't.

Weekly: You are an artist with a lot of experience in tech and VR. How can you foresee using VR to help mitigate the impact of isolation, loneliness and education?

DK: Now is a good time to use VR to create, share and experience new art, as well as to interact spatially with other humans without having to exchange germs with them. Self-quarantining and staying home can be very isolating and even depressing long term. Hopefully we can use VR to mitigate some of this social isolation, creating a bridge to the time when we eradicate COVID-19.

In the process, together we will be pushed to come up with new innovations in the VR space that will be useful far into the future.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and Almanac here.

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The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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