Public Media Arts Hub

How the pandemic helped bring artistic dreams to life


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: Well, the COVID pandemic led many to reevaluate, even change their priorities. For some, it inspired them to try something new.

Special correspondent Jared Bowen of GBH Boston has the story of people who used the last year to bring their artistic dreams to life.

It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jared Bowen: Before the pandemic, Amin Tabrizi was flying high.

Amin Tabrizi, Student, North Bennet Street School: I was a what they call first officer, or some people casually they know as co-pilot.

Jared Bowen: But after the pandemic slowed air travel, Tabrizi was laid off and turned to something that had long intrigued him, piano-tuning.

Amin Tabrizi: I used to play piano, and I was always interested in looking inside of this thing, like, man, all these moving parts. So that kind of rejuvenated that urge to want to one day do it.

Madeline Grant Colety, Owner, Evoke Design & Build: It looks like we're off.

Jared Bowen: Pre-pandemic, Madeline Grant Colety was more than 20 years into her career as an urban planner.

Madeline Grant Colety: Working at kind of a national level on issues around fair housing and disaster recovery, as well as affordable housing and community development.

Speaker: So, now, if you guys pull your chalk again.

Jared Bowen: Gnawing at her, though, was the fact that urban planning isn't the same as hands-on building.

Madeline Grant Colety: Housing and affordable housing and appropriate shelter is a real passion. And I felt like I wanted to see more immediate results in my work.

So, I have been contemplating carpentry for a while.

Jared Bowen: So, both Grant Colety and Tabrizi have enrolled here at the North Bennet Street School, making a pandemic pivot into becoming artisans.

Amin Tabrizi: It's not just one or two notes. There's 88 of these things. So, just taking out one key, repair it, fix it, and then move on to the next one.

I think it's both problem-solving and it takes a lot of patience. So that's essentially what I'm doing, discovering things about myself as well.


Madeline Grant Colety: I actually have two college-age kids, so it's important for me to have a good income. And to make a big transition like this, I can't do it lightly.

But the pandemic made me think harder about how our individual decisions affect our community, and the local impact that we have.

Sarah Turner, President, North Bennet Street School: Every time I approach a student to talk to them about their work, they're so excited to tell me about what they're working on.

Jared Bowen: Sarah Turner is the president of the school, which this year marks the 140th anniversary of its founding in Boston's North End, a predominantly Italian neighborhood.

Sarah Turner: It was a place that was first giving skills, life skills, hand skills to the waves of immigrants that were moving to this area of Boston.

Jared Bowen: That philosophy continues today in nine programs as varied as bookbinding, furniture making, and violin crafting. Studies, Turner says, that are as much about the producing as the producer.

Sarah Turner: When you work with a hand and you work at a small scale, your relationship to community changes.

I think you start to know the people who provide the materials. You know the businesses that you have to intersect. You start to know the field, the community of makers that you're a part of.

Jared Bowen: The 150 full-time students here range from teenagers to septuagenarians. When classes resumed last fall, Turner noticed that, as the world was upended, students were doubling down on what had become urgently important.

Sarah Turner: I remember standing on the sidewalk as school was starting. They were coming to take a real risk. I mean, to come to a hands-on school, still in a pandemic, is really brave. It's such an act of optimism, I think and courage, to make a life change any time. But to make it then just was so inspiring.

Jared Bowen: Just weeks into typically nine-month-long programs, the students find themselves out in the world.

Madeline Grant Colety has been at work on a residential project in Haverhill.

Madeline Grant Colety: We were putting up boards, siding. And there are five or six steps involved, and each one has to be just right in order to get that perfect finished product.

So it's -- breaking that down and demystifying is very interesting and more complex than I thought.

Jared Bowen: Do you have doubt about what you're doing right now?

Madeline Grant Colety: Not at all, no. I feel more like myself, using my hands and thinking creatively.

Jared Bowen: Which, after graduation, Grant Colety will channel into the design firm she's launched.

Madeline Grant Colety: I wanted to really specialize in kind of small home renovation, to help design smaller spaces to make them work better. So, for me, that was part of bringing carpentry and design together with that special focus.

Jared Bowen: Amin Tabrizi expects to fly again, but also plans to become a piano technician on the side. After all, there is a thread between planes and pianos, he says.

Amin Tabrizi: I would say hands-on coordination, that's something we use a lot. And another thing that we use a lot in the aviation world is, say, situation awareness, so just essentially anticipating, OK, I did one part. OK, now what's the next thing?

Jared Bowen: Something he, Grant Colety, and their fellow North Bennet Street School students have already answered for themselves.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jared Bowen in Boston.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.