How the Boise State art department is adapting to COVID-19

Photo by Mackenzie Hudson

Hunter Simmons is a senior visual art major with a sculpture emphasis. Last semester, when the university closed in March, he had to completely change the projects he was working on.

“It was going from metal and wood and trying to make these more intricate pieces to ‘Ok, what do I have at home? I have cardboard. What can I make out of cardboard?’” Simmons said.

According to the Interim Chair of the Department of Art, Design and Visual Studies Dan Scott students should not stress over another campus shutdown. The Department of Art, Design & Visual Studies has already worked out a plan in case of another shutdown, called the Continuation of Operation Plan (COOP). In the meantime, the department has taken action to ensure a safer environment for students.

According to Simmons, one of the biggest changes has been the limited access to on-campus studio spaces. Hours are more limited, and workspaces are separated for physical distancing. In-person classes, like studio classes, look different this semester, with pre-staged classrooms and more limited movement within the space.

“There’s a lot more pressure to get things done outside of class,” Simmons said.

Photo of the Fine Arts building on Boise State campus
[Photo of The Center for Visual Arts on Boise State campus]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

Wyatt Wurtenburger, a senior illustration major, says that the shift to more off-campus art has felt more like life after graduation. 

“In a way I think it’s closer to being an actual freelance artist,” Wurtenburger said.

Wherever possible, the department has switched to online classes. Classes using a “hybrid” approach, with half the class alternating between in-person and online meetings each class.

According to Wurtenburger, the switch to online art classes has been difficult to adjust to and that online communication, like Flipgrid or emails, don’t always have the same effect as in-person communication. 

“Communication with peers is really important,” Wurtenburger said. “It doesn’t have that liveliness that I think is really important in discussing artwork.”

The new policies have brought positive changes to the art department as well. 

“In some cases, some students are happier with it this way,” Scott said. “A number of students told me they liked it better when we went online, which kind of broke my heart.”

The increase of technology allows instructors to give students recordings of digital drawings, something Scott says will probably be a permanent change to art classes.

“The technology allowed me to focus on [my students] very specifically and, more importantly, to give them very durable feedback,” Scott said. 

[Graphic of various art tools]
Graphic by Jordan Barno | The Arbiter

Kirsten Furlong is a gallery director and lecturer at the Visual Arts Center who works with her Art 409 class to create a gallery. According to Furlong, when the Spring 2020 Exhibition switched to online only, her students were disappointed, but excited by the opportunity to reach new audiences.

This semester, her class has been working to prepare a hybrid gallery, where works will be available online and in-person, a change she said will likely continue with future classes.

“It’s creating a whole new way of engagement for all visual artists,” Furlong said.

The gallery will open online and in-person this November, and the spring 2020 exhibition can be viewed here.

Scott emphasized that the university would not offer a class if they could not teach it effectively.

“Regardless of what the instruction looks like, we have not changed our focus on appropriate learning objectives and satisfying the outcomes that are necessary,” Scott said. “It sounds odd but it’s working.”

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