Art & Design Department aims to stay connected despite COVID-19

by Olivia Nettrouer | Staff Writer

From learning drawing techniques to how to manipulate materials, art is a learning experience dependent on hands-on learning and classroom presence. However, with COVID-19 still a threat to in-person learning, the University of  Indianapolis’ Art & Design students are confronted with developing their craft without face-to-face instruction.

The biggest challenge for the Department of Art & Design amidst COVID-19 has been the lack of hands-on interaction with students, according to James Viewegh, associate professor and chair of the Art & Design Department.

“One of the things our department is known for is our working relationship with our students and being able to help them build repertoire and become really strong artists,” Viewegh said. “We’re just sort of distant from that now, which is really unfortunate, but we’re making it work, that’s what matters. As artists and designers, give us a problem, and we’ll make it work.”

The department is doing all they can with virtual meetings to stay connected to incoming freshmen, according to Art & Design Coordinator Hazel Augustin. Augustin said freshmen have a seminar with all art students which allows them to connect with each other.

“They have their freshman seminar, which has all the art students in it,” Augstin said. “It’s very wonderful that we have that, especially at this point, because they have that closeness in there and that connection with each other even though it’s virtual.”

This fall, only the sculpture and ceramics classes are meeting in person on the patio of the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, Viewegh said. All other classes are meeting via Zoom and are turning their work digitally, he said. Faculty have purchased large screens for their homes to better see student work, according to Viewegh. 

As for the printmaking class, students are still able to work on the presses, Viewegh said. Assistant Professor of Art & Design Katherine Fries allows students to come in one at a time in staggered intervals, according to Viewegh.

With classes such as painting that require materials to be able to do the classwork, the department had to find a way for students to continue their work from home. Students were able to get their materials for their classes this semester by either purchasing or mail ordering supply kits from the UIndy Bookstore, according to Viewegh.

“We can essentially carry on in a very similar way that we would’ve done in class, except for them [the students] gathering around me at a table to see a demonstration, now they’re watching on screens instead,” Viewegh said. 

All the art studios in Christel DeHaan are closed, but the art gallery is open, Viewegh said. The gallery is limited to ten people at a time and masks are being required to enter the building, according to Viewegh. No major exhibitions from established artists will be running this year, he said.

“We can’t have major gallery exhibitions, so we’ll open the year with that [senior visual communication design] exhibition [and] that allows senior students to show their work,” Viewegh said. “It allows parents to come and see what they did.” 

Despite not having exhibitions or on-campus lectures, students will still be able to learn from guest artists, according to Viewegh. Assistant Professor of Art and Design Nathan Foley has set up a virtual lecture series through the department, he said. Six different artists will also give lectures about their work via Zoom and then answer questions through the chat feature, according to Viewegh. 

Usually, artists would come to art classes to give lectures and do demos, according to Augustin. The artists taking part in the virtual lecture series come from different fields, and the art department is excited about the virtual lectures, she said. 

“We felt like this was a good way of getting students exposed to other artists in a safe aspect,” Augustin said. “We felt like this was the safest way. It kept us going and reaching out and feeling connected to the students.”

Viewegh said he has been telling his students that in his 20 years of teaching at UIndy, an event such as a pandemic has never happened before. He said he hopes to be back in the studios with students and have exhibitions and events go back to normal. 

“… We’ll be laughing about what a crazy time that was, but it taught us how to take a terrible situation and solve a problem and move forward,” Viewegh said. “All we have to do is keep moving forward, and we’ll be fine.”

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