Online Art Class Sought Reflections to Cope With COVID-19

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As a way to address stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis through art, Lynn Sondag, associate professor in the Department of Art, Design, and Visual Studies, created an online class for her Art Fundamentals students and revised the course reflection journal assignments.

“The theme of the class has been based on the eight studio habits of mind, what the arts teach, and who has access to the arts education,” Sondag says. “Since they are not able to continue their service-learning partnership with Kids Club, I was thinking it would be nice to get insight from them on how having art projects to work on may prove to be a benefit at this time: helping them settle, stay present, connect with something beautiful.”

Sondag, who is also Director of the Honors Program at Dominican, explains she has been reading more stories about ways to reduce stress during a crisis “and art often is listed,” she says. Further inspired by a children’s “Stuck Inside Art” gallery of painted rocks and other projects displayed on the front porch of a neighbor near her home, Sondag hopes the essays might provide inspiration for community solidarity and well-being, and future arts and arts education advocacy.

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Here was Sondag’s first entry:

Bookmarking websites, downloading materials and creating new folders, subscribing to new podcasts and online training? Like many of my colleagues, the past two weeks I’ve been frantically trying to keep up with and organize multiple online resources flooding my inbox. Email subject lines speak directly to aiding arts educators who are facing this sudden mid-semester shift to teaching studio art classes virtually. The non-optional situation has been met with an impressive flurry of excitement and non-stop problem solving. Even my college professor from 30 years ago reached out and introduced me to a Facebook group called “Online Art and Studio Instruction in the Age of Social Distancing.” I’m grateful r the technology that is keeping us connected, supported, and most importantly allowing us to continue teaching our students. It’s an adjustment for many in education, but it’s one we can and will work with, and that in itself is a creative act.

Foremost on our minds is how to make the now virtual classroom learning experience as accessible, positive, and successful as possible. Students in my class are 100% on board to help make this happen. Within 24 hours of mailing packages of supplies, I welcomed email responses such as `I’ve received the materials and am excited to get started on my assignments!’ In the first synchronous class, all students joined Zoom on time with full participation.

This service-learning course, Art Fundamentals: Concept to Creation, is designed to explore what the arts teach and how the arts are integral part of educational equity. And now more than ever, there’s a unique opportunity to delve into both of these issues. Students enrolled in this class are pursing degrees in education, nursing, psychology, and pre-med. My hope is that despite this sudden disruption, or even because of it, the course will continue to provide opportunities for students to reflect on the numerous benefits of art and creative expression, and who has access to these benefits. Students are diligently working on their assignments at home and sending jpegs of work in progress for feedback. One nurse shared this message: I’m finding working on my creative assignment very therapeutic.’

The students are not alone with this feeling as many people of all ages are taking up creative and artistic projects at home during the Shelter In Place order. Sources for virtual art lessons and activities are abundant and readily available on social media and the Internet. Families are embracing these moments to create art together and engage their children in art activities. Individuals are using quarantined time for creative projects. Several of my friends are seizing the opportunity to return to their studios after a long hiatus. I may even begin a series of paintings that’s been on the back burner for some time. This mandate has forced us to stay inside, and with that there’s a settling down and accepting things as they are, prioritizing personal well-being, and care for families and loved ones. There’s a wonderful solidarity that can take place in these moments. Art connects us, with beauty, with ourselves, and with one another.

This may even lead to new ways to bring unity into our communities through creative expression. Despite the amount of time in isolation, there are examples of public artistic statements being shared outside on our neighborhood’s colorful chalk drawn sidewalks. With an increasing number of people taking walks, there’s an audience to appreciate the various “pop-up” art exhibitions. Fortunately, I’m right around the corner from the curbside “Stuck Inside Art Gallery,” currently featuring acorn caps decorated with nail polish.

As an artist-activist teaching a course about educational equity and the arts, I’m sensitive to another angle on this situation. Time for art and creativity may be a silver lining to some, and it is also a privilege. First, there’s a need for the arts to be available to all school children, which is not happening in Marin County. At the same time, not all families or individuals have the resources – time, money, wifi, supplies, etc. to make art and take up or supervise art activities.  The other issue weighing heavily on my mind is the fact that numerous artists are scared right now with loss of income, cancellations of exhibitions, closing of non-profit art spaces. This past week the San Francisco Arts Institute announced its closure, which is a tremendous loss to Bay Area arts and culture.  Those very individuals freely sharing their creative ideas and instructions online providing us with new inspiration have dedicated many years to their practice and craft.

 At the beginning of the semester, Dominican students partnered with fourth graders from Kids Club at the Alberto Boro Community Center, meeting once a week to create art projects together. Even though we are unable to continue this partnership due to SIP, students will use this opportunity to further reflect on the role of the arts in education and our lives, especially students headed to careers in healthcare who are realizing the relationship between arts and well-being. While the college students were able to take art classes when they were in fourth grade, the youth they are partnered with attend schools that do not have arts programming. Together they’ve enjoyed arts projects that draw upon their creativity, and learning from one another they’ve built meaningful relationships. Hopefully, as a class, as a community we recognize that in a time that calls for physical distancing, our innate desire to create provides an esprit de corps. Perhaps from this emerges a renewed appreciation for the arts and future arts education advocacy.


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