FARGO — For the last couple of years, Hayden Swanson has been livin’ the dream, even to the point of naming his pottery business Livin’ the Dream.

The coronavirus pandemic was a rude awakening for many dreamers who lost their jobs, and Swanson suffered his own setback when his position as an instructor at the Plains Art Museum was put on hold as the building closed.

Still, if you ask him how he’s been doing over the past month, his answer is pretty predictable.

“Oh, you know, livin’ the dream,” he says from his home and makeshift studio.

Swanson, who goes by the name Hayden the Art Dude on Facebook and YouTube, has been making his dreams come true by posting regular tutorials online as "Hayden’s Art Party." The shows are streamed weekdays at 10 a.m. on his and the Plains' Facebook pages and are also posted on YouTube.

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Hayden Swanson working on a drawing as part of "Hayden's Art Party." Special to The Forum
Hayden Swanson working on a drawing as part of "Hayden's Art Party." Special to The Forum

“It gives the kids something to do,” he says of the art projects. “It’s nice for them to see a familiar face.”

The segments, which are in the 20-minute range, feature the colorful artist singing and jamming out illustrations and other art projects geared for younger crowds.

“I’m keeping it simple and keeping it fun. It’s all about being there and just doing it,” he says.

He started doing it within days of the Plains deciding in mid-March to close its doors during the pandemic. His boss at the Plains, Netha Cloeter, asked him about reviving the video art lessons he started a few years ago. Swanson was already steps ahead of her.

“It’s a great example of an artist doing a fast pivot and asking himself, ‘What can I do to share with the community?’” she says.

She’s not kidding about the fast pivot. Over the past five or so weeks, Swanson says he’s cranked out about 25 videos, all of which he shoots, edits and posts from his home. He gets up in the morning, shoots the video, produces it and gets it online before 10 a.m. each weekday.

His Art Dude persona makes him a great fit for the videos, Cloeter says.

“What he brings to the table is high energy and supportive instruction,” she says. “He’s such a positive person and brings a lot of optimism to the table.”

While the videos are on YouTube, as well as Swanson’s and the Plains’ Facebook page, the shows are not a Plains production and Swanson has total control over them. Still, Cloeter says it's important to the museum to support its artist employees, even when they can’t teach in the building.

Working from home, she occasionally watches the videos with her 2-year-old son and says the program can be just as enjoyable for a parent as a child.

“It’s kind of a Jimmy Fallon, Mister Rogers kind of vibe,” Swanson says about his playful persona. “I learned to be real and be myself. That’s what people want to see.”

Hayden Swanson starts off each Art Party with a song. Special to The Forum
Hayden Swanson starts off each Art Party with a song. Special to The Forum

He starts the shows playing a keyboard and singing his own theme song.

“No kids are going to talk crap about me being a bad singer as long as I don’t sound like a dying dog,” he says.

“That interdisciplinary nature makes it more engaging for him. There’s an entertainment value to it and that’s really important,” Cloeter says.

He says the shows are geared toward grade school children, and he tries to keep the projects accessible.

“Every kid should be able to get a drawing utensil and something to write on,” he says.

The shows have been completely self-funded, so he does ask for donations, if possible. He’s been pleasantly surprised at the response, saying he’s received offerings from $5 to $100.

More encouraging feedback for him is when one of his young students posts a picture of their completed project in the comment section.

He credits Fargo artist Olivia Bain for helping him with the show and wants to open the door to other artists being part of the show.

“It’s been a cool ride,” he says.