For 10 years, Heartland Farm in Pawnee Rock has been home to a secret gem. Each year, Heartland Farm, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, held FiberSpace, a two-day celebration of spinning, knitting, crochet and weaving. FiberSpace was usually conducted in January and February and was attended by local “fiber folks.”
The COVID-19 pandemic turned plans for the 2021 FiberSpace upside down, but as members of an 800-year-old mendicant religious order, Dominican Sisters are not ones to give up easily. Although the pandemic grew worse in the fall of 2020, Dominican Sister of Peace Jane Belanger and Heartland Farm Marketing/Media Coordinator Teresa Johnson Heartland Farm staff were determined to use a new approach to move forward with the 2021 event.
“The Dominican Sisters of Peace have been utilizing technology like webcasting and video calls for national meetings for several years now,” said Sr. Jane, a long-time member of the Heartland Farm community. “We actually had to move one of last year’s traditional events to a drive-through format and taking FiberSpace to the virtual space seemed like the next logical step.”
Sr. Jane and Johnson began planning three months before the planned date of the 2021 event. Given Facebook’s popularity with people in the event demographic and the many Facebook groups devoted to fiber arts, they determined that a Facebook Live platform would be the most effective medium for broadcast.
“Facebook was a real cross-platform solution for us,” said Johnson. “Participants could attend on phones, tablets, or desktop computers and all enjoy the same experience.”
Johnson asked a small group of former FiberSpace attendees to be part of the new “virtual” version. “Fortunately, many of them are either close friends or family members who were already in each other’s “COVID-cones,” Sr. Jane said, “so they felt comfortable spending a day inside at the Farm. Of course, we were all masked and maintained social distancing for the event.”
Johnson invited past attendees via email and used targeted Facebook advertising to promote the live event. She also asked the in-person participants to promote the event in their personal and crafter-centered networks, creating more viral organic outreach.
“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Johnson said. “Our first Facebook live event was basically a six-hour live instructional video – we had no idea how it would go over with participants.”
The team got their answer on Feb. 27, when more than 400 participants from around the U.S. began to log in to the event. Crafters from as near as Wichita and as far away as Maryland watched, asked questions, and learned new techniques. Participants were also treated to a video tour of the 80-acre Heartland Farm, where the Sisters and staff raise alpacas, organically grown vegetables and chickens.
“It was surprisingly personal,” said Sr. Jane. “People sent questions to us through Facebook, and the crafters were able to talk and respond to each other in almost real time. Fortunately, everyone was very patient with our little technical glitches.”
Suzi Rife, a novice crafter from North Carolina, found the event online and attended throughout the day. “I loved the weaving class,” she commented in the video’s chat. “It’s good to see how to manage the problems on the loom.”
The recorded videos will be used by the Farm for pre-recorded craft classes. Sr. Jane Belanger is looking forward to using these videos to make the classes available to other ministries of the Dominican Sisters as well.
“The Dominican Sisters of Peace have seven ecological and retreat centers across the country,” Sr. Jane said. “Using new technologies will let us each expand our reach and offer a wider variety of programming to all of our audiences.”