By Margo Parker ’21

Last Tuesday night, I sat down in front of my computer (again), excited, curious, and a little apprehensive. COld oPEn (COPE), an “online art and literary salon,” was starting in eight  minutes. On my computer, text notifications pinged — questions from curious friends, mostly along the lines of “so, what exactly is this?” 

Basically, COPE is a weekly Zoom meeting where anyone with a Davidson ID can present creative work. You sign up on a Google Doc and get a Zoom link in return. The meeting is then recorded, livecast on YouTube, and saved to a private channel. To just watch, check out the YouTube link. To perform something, fill out this Google Form.

COPE is the brainchild of Prof. Alan Michael Parker and Daniel Lynds of the English Department and the Library, respectively. They each reached out to people in their own networks, who in turn forwarded their emails to friends, coworkers, group project members, freshman hall GroupMe’s, etc. After a little poking and prodding, the first COPE lineup was about 20 people strong — painters, fiction writers, and music enthusiasts alike. 

Slowly, as Prof. Parker called participants to the virtual stage, we each un-muted our microphones and offered a brief hello. Then an awkward wave. Then a poem, a story, a painting, a song, a thesis. Our procession, at times, felt almost funereal, as we lay our little sacred objects down at the place of our grief — for friends, for what felt like security, for half a semester gone, for the closure that many of us thought the late spring would bring. COPE doesn’t pretend that everything is normal, because it isn’t. Instead, COPE says that the community of kind, talented, thoughtful people by whom we used to be surrounded didn’t up and disappear. It’s different. It’s fragmented, in various frames of crisis. But it’s still there.

All sentimentality aside, people have brought genuinely amazing work to COld oPEn. Dr. Clint Smith ’10, author of the acclaimed collection Counting Descent (2016), read two of his more recent poems, calling on us all to respond to catastrophe with courage and radical empathy. Makayla Binter ’20 earned her fair share of audible gasps from the Zoom room with her senior studio art portfolio. Emily Trinh ’22 and Maurice Norman ’20 gave us compelling poetic reflections on home and family in lieu of what was shaping up to be a really spectacular FreeWord showcase. The Arts and Culture section could publish nothing but rave reviews of COPE performances and never run out of material. 

At its heart, however, COPE is a space of contagious joy, a creative outlet that is removed from the critical scrutiny of so many artistic spaces. Bring your published work! Bring that canvas you made at a Union Board event that one time! And, by all means, bring the poetry you write in the notes app! The stakes absolutely could not be lower. The meeting recordings aren’t available to the public. It’s not for a grade. Instead, COPE asks us questions about what we want from creative spaces at Davidson. 

Can we honor the inherent value of coming together across disciplines to hear and look at the things we say and make? Can we hold space for the unpolished, for the awkward, for the sentences that have to be re-started because your mic was still muted the first time? Can we extend the grace we give to imperfect creative work to each other as human beings? I think, if we’re doing this right, COPE can be an exercise in emotional object permanence. We can still be here for each other, wherever we are.