The arts, both visual and performing, are a crucial part of the University of Connecticut, with the William Benton Museum of Art and the School of Fine Arts as staples of the UConn Storrs campus. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for all departments, the arts have been particularly affected by the outbreak with faculty and students having to abandon their traditional methods of instruction to accommodate the new virtual environment.
How can the arts function in a virtual mode? How can fine arts students create sculptures, paintings and animations when all of their equipment and tools remain locked in the classroom? All these questions and more were answered in a panel discussion hosted by the Benton. Faculty members from various disciplines within the visual arts were brought together to discuss and showcase the work they have been doing in this very unconventional and, at times, trying semester.
“Art is necessary to our healing right now, socially, physically,” Samantha Olschan, assistant professor of motion design and animation at UConn Stamford, said. “Not that I didn’t think that before, but I think that now more than ever.”
Olschan spoke about the challenge of motivating students to stay creative and produce art in a time when it seems like nobody can see it. She argued that art is crucial in times of distress to make statements that will help build a better world around us.
“I had a professor once who told me, ‘Your talent is not a gift, it’s an obligation.’ And I think I kinda went, ‘oh yeah, whatever.’ And now in quarantine, I understand that statement because I have the skills, I have the time and I know what I am going to do with it,” Olschan said. “I hope that this is something I can buoy my students with.”
Some panel members, like assistant professor of illustration/animation at UConn Storrs, Allison Paul, discussed the need to use this unconventional experience as a teaching moment to prepare students for the careers they are about to embark on.
“In terms of teaching and trying to be a lemonade maker; the students, especially that first semester when they went home, their work plummeted, which made zero sense because illustrators largely work from home,” Paul said. “It was actually a wake up call for me as a professor, to say, ‘okay, maybe I should incorporate some part of this post-pandemic, where they can really look at the spaces where they’ll be working in.”
While it is easy to only think of art as paintings on a canvas or sculptures made from clay, we often forget that much of the art created by UConn students is also done virtually. These students might not need to build an art studio in their homes, but their virtual workspace still poses some challenges.
Assistant professor of motion design and animation, Heejoo Kim said, “I think that the most challenging aspect of this period of time is that we have even more time, so how we manage our time is now very crucial.”
A challenge for the current pandemic is making art accessible to people while still remaining socially distant. After all, the art on display in museums and galleries was not meant to be viewed in a virtual manner. Art museum attendance has dropped nearly 80% nationwide, so it is important to remember that in these difficult times, art is still alive and institutions like the Benton and the School of Fine Arts are working to ensure its survival.