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Orange County artists reflect on impact of COVID-19 on their work

Musician Keenan Jenkins, or XOXOK, plays guitar at the Old Well on Friday, March 5th, 2021.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the lives and work of artists and creatives in Orange County. While these artists struggled with the lack of in-person events and interaction with the community, they developed new projects and found new ways to be creative.

Here, we reflect back on the experiences of three Orange County artists as they created amid the pandemic: 


UNC alumnus Keenan Jenkins is an atmospheric soul musician who performs under the name XOXOK. 

Before the pandemic, Jenkins performed all over the Triangle and the state, but for the past year he has been focusing on recording music at home.

“I found other ways to occupy my time musically,” Jenkins said. “I learned how to do recording at home, and that was really useful and took a lot of my creative energy.”

He has put out three singles over the past year: “Right On,” “I’ll Be Fine” and “All In.” 

His most recent single, “All In,” was created in collaboration with Tracks Music Library, a streaming service for local music.

Jenkins worked with a friend to record and produce the song from home. Another North Carolina artist, Kaze4letters, is also featured on the song.

“We were masked up and six feet apart, when we could be, recording it at home, which was definitely different, but we made it work,” Jenkins said. “There was another artist on the song, Kaze, and that was all virtual, so he did his verse at home and sent it over, and it was actually pretty seamless.”

Jenkins said he feels fortunate that music was not his only source of income before the pandemic.

“I have lots of friends who perform, and that’s their entire income is performing out in public,” he said.

While he is wary about the safety of returning to live performances soon, Jenkins hopes by the time a year has passed, performing live won’t still be a safety concern.

“I say I haven’t really missed performing that much, but I know once I get out there and do it again, I will be like ‘Wow, I have really been craving this,’” he said. 

Jenkins is thankful for the ways he has learned to be creative over the pandemic and hopes to keep applying them even when it ends. 

Jenn Adams

Jenn Adams is a mixed media artist who works with photography, printmaking, book art and more. She moved to Carrboro in 2017 after living in New York City for 30 years.

Although Adams prefers to work on her art alone, not being able to interact with other artists in-person during the pandemic has been difficult, as she draws inspiration from other artists’ work and being in a community of artists.

“I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from those things, those situations,” she said. “Seeing other people’s work really is inspiring to me. There’s a 'je ne sais quoi' quality to interacting with people.”

Before the pandemic, Adams was part of Triangle Book Arts and had recently joined the Orange County Artists Guild. She was disappointed to not be able to have in-person meetings and events in these groups.

“I was so excited to be around a community of other artists and I lost out on that experience, so that has really been the biggest bummer,” she said.

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Over the past year, Adams has worked on smaller projects, like greeting cards and some mixed media pieces that she submitted to a show put on by Triangle Book Arts.

Adams unexpectedly started a relationship during the pandemic, which she said has influenced her work. She said some of her mixed media projects were inspired by materials she was given by her significant other. 

Fred Joiner

Fred Joiner, the Poet Laureate of Carrboro, said the past year has changed his life a lot. While he used to do in-person school visits and poetry programming and workshops, he has shifted to doing virtual events, commissions and working on a manuscript. 

Joiner works full time in IT, so during the pandemic he has been trying to cut down his screen time.

“Whereas before I would do a lot on the computer, now to get a break from screen time I write things longhand on paper in my journals,” he said. “In terms of process, that’s definitely changed.”

Joiner is a 2019 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. He planned to use the funding from the fellowship to hold in-person writing workshops in local restaurants, where writers could meet to talk about their work and support local businesses at the same time.

While he hasn’t been able to do workshops, he has been able to get involved in virtual events outside of the Chapel Hill area.

“What has opened up is to be able to do things outside of the area that probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do if I had to travel,” he said. “Being able to do lots of different presentations and readings.”

Joiner is also the chairperson of the Orange County Arts Commission’s Art Advisory Board, where he has been focusing on building an arts space in Hillsborough.

“We’ve been working pretty seriously on that, trying to make sure that that is ready so that when things open back up, we will hit the ground running with programming and a venue for all kinds of creative activity in Hillsborough,” he said.