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Prioritizing your community during a pandemic, according to Soft Spot

Soft Spot is running on borrowed time, and not because of the coronavirus pandemic. That's according to its three co-facilitators — Rain Sissel and siblings Caitlyn and Megan Edson — and it's a reference to the fact that the city plans to eventually demolish their building in Beacon Hill to make room for new construction.

Being an impermanent locale has its perks, though; for one, it emphasizes the community it serves rather than the space itself and means that, by necessity, Soft Spot is both a place and an idea that transcends any literal location.

Now, almost exactly one year since opening day, Soft Spot is still going strong and providing a community gathering space so desperately needed in a time when many are feeling isolated and alone.

"For us, Soft Spot is a place that we all chip in too and support and grow outside of our own personal lives and full-time jobs," Caitlyn said. "It's a space of joy and passion for all of us. So in my mind, closing was never even an option. It was like, 'I'll do anything to make sure that that doesn't happen.'"

Soft Spot is a self-proclaimed "teeny tiny" art gallery that bills itself as a DIY community arts space (currently open Wednesdays, 5 to 7 p.m., and Sundays, noon to 2 p.m.). The description holds; this is a watering hole for artists, art-lovers, and random passer-bys alike. Before the pandemic hit, it had already hosted a slew of successful exhibits and pop-ups; when they reopened in mid-July, the co-facilitators pivoted exclusively to group shows.

"These days, we're taking it really slow and just delighting in what's in the space right now," Caitlyn said. "The group show model takes the pressure off of somebody who may be planned to have a solo show eventually, but got really derailed because of coronavirus, or maybe is feeling more mental anguish or anxiety in their heart space. So in some ways, it's been a gentle coming home for a lot of different people. There's less emphasis on the single person; it's more about all of the parts coming together."

Group shows are just one tool that the Soft Spot team has used to continue serving its community during a global pandemic; they've also launched a website (complete with virtual tours) and participated in Beacon Hill Walkabout parties hosted by neighboring restaurant, Musang.

"When the pandemic happened, people retreated to their homes, but when the time came to come out and support each other, people's enthusiasm was overwhelming," Megan said. "When we reached out to artists and asked if they wanted to be a part of this big gallery space, I feel like they were even more receptive, knowing that their art was going to be seen right next to somebody else's. In that way, it felt like community was being built inside Soft Spot, too."

In part to remind themselves — and their community — of all they've built, the Soft Spot team has also launched a magazine.

"It felt really urgent for me to immortalize all of these different experiences we've had in the space," Sissel said. "However, it was going to evolve, and whether or not it was going to be a physical space, I wanted us to have this record of all the hard work we've put in and all the art we've had."

So, what does community look like right now for Soft Spot? It's virtual; it's in-person at neighborhood block parties; it's on paper thanks to issue one of Soft Spot Magazine; it's via interactions with artists and art-lovers on Instagram or over email. Clearly, there is no shortage of opportunities for these facilitators to forge lasting connections; however, abnormal daily life has become.

"There isn't really anything that feels 'typical' these days, especially at Soft Spot, where we're trying to be as community-driven as possible," Caitlyn said. "It's just us hanging out around all of this beautiful art, and anytime somebody pops their head in, just making them feel really safe, seen, and held as they navigate the space. We want the space to feel open and alive."

Much like the rest of us, Soft Spot's co-facilitators cannot predict the future — instead, they embrace each day as it comes. In a year characterized by so much uncertainty, this is one space that serves as a reminder of what we still have: each other.

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