Art in a Pandemic: Sean Wellington

An exclusive interview with Sean Wellington

by Patrick Phelps-McKeown

As the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives over the past year, many of us are turning to the arts to provide insight, human connection, and healing. The ArtsCenter’s online learning programs allow students of all ages stay creative, learn new skills, and maintain meaningful relationships with others from the comfort of their own home.

The ArtSchool is excited to welcome Sean Wellington to our arts education program. We spoke with Sean about his practice during the crisis and what students will learn in his first classes, both of which start this Thursday: What’s Your Story and The 99 Second Story Workshop.

Tell us about your background and how you got to the work you do today.
SW: The bulk of my life has been spent in classrooms, teaching Humanities and ESL, and on stages. A decade or so ago I started dabbling in storytelling, and as my interest and skills grew, I began using it more when teaching. I really dove into building a story-based community in late 2019, just before COVID, and hope to expand that here in the Triangle as we return to a sort of normal.

How has COVID impacted your practice?
SW: COVID has actually created an opportunity to build a community that probably would not have been available, though it’s been entirely virtual. I’ve been fortunate to have produced weekly events, offer workshops and facilitate a variety of dynamic groups.

Could you tell us a bit about GRIT and Story Jam?
SW: GRIT is the organization that I founded in late 2019. We have been hosting story-centered virtual events since last March and hope to offer live events in the Triangle when restrictions lift. One of our events is the 99-Second Slam (The 99), which started last summer and evolved from work that my friend, Steph Rogers, had been doing with her organization, Story Jam, which is based in Chicago. As a result, we have been collaborating with all things 99.

Tell us about the classes you’ll be teaching through The ArtsCenter. Who would be interested in taking these classes? What can students expect to learn?
SW: What’s Your Story is an in-person class that’s all about finding, crafting and telling one meaningful story. Yes, I promise you- you’ve got stories! What makes this class a bit different is the way we will be doing this work- we want to create a movie in our audiences mind, so students will be actively creating and recreating their own movies, with both structure and support. The 99-Second Story is a virtual (for now) class that centers on learning and applying the components of this unique, challenging and exciting format. This is ideal for anyone who wants to practice taking moments from their lives and repackaging them into what I call story bursts. Despite their brevity, the goal remains the same: engage and relate.

Are there any works of art or media that have particularly helped you get through the last year?
Podcasts – I listen to them constantly! I’ve also been able to start two podcasts of my own – GRIT: True Stories that Matter, which features personal narrative stories (from 99 seconds to 12 minutes) and conversations with the storytellers, as well as Suicide Noted, where I speak with suicide attempt survivors.

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?
SW: I encourage everyone to try this kind of story—it really can be empowering and even life-changing. It’s been that way for me and others who I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with, particularly in the past year or so. If you are thinking about taking either class (or know someone who might be) and have a question, please reach out. I’m happy to talk and answer any questions:

Sean teaches What’s Your Story and The 99 Second Story Workshop (both starting May 13). Register for these classes and the rest of our ArtSchool classes here.

Art instructors who are interested in exploring the possibility of offering in-person or online instruction through The ArtsCenter should contact Education Director Kirsten Ehlert at