VCUarts students adjust, cope with remote instruction

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

As VCU students moved out of their dorms, many packed portfolios and art projects alongside their typical linens and clothes. But they couldn’t take everything with them: music and dance studios, special equipment and in-person critiques had to stay behind.

For all students the recent shift to online instruction will be a deviation from what they expected from the rest of the semester, but for VCUarts students, this shift will present unique learning challenges.

Meera Brown, a senior in the sculpture department, said they were still somewhat confused about how to proceed, given that they couldn’t access studio space or the necessary tools. 

“I’ve brought home some basics from my school studio but had to leave most of my stuff in the FAB [Fine Arts Building], not to mention I can’t use our shops to fabricate anything in any capacity,” Brown said in a direct message. 

Students have been cut off from resources within their departments, from materials to studio space. Shayne Herrera, a sophomore painting and printmaking major, said students would lose out on classes that rely on face-to-face instruction and critique. 

“I know for me, some of my classes … just can’t be taught [online], however the professors are doing what they can in order to still give us information,” Herrera said over a direct message. “I do salute the professors because, given the extra week they had, they are really pushing to still have class.”

Herrera is the president of Black Art Student Empowerment, a campus organization that aims to promote the work of students of color and foster community. This shift to online classes has hurt B.A.S.E., effectively canceling all its events for the rest of the semester. 

Herrera noted that the organization is still providing support to its members through social media, with plans to come back for the fall semester. 

Anna Mitchell, a freshman music education major, says many of her classes, such as orchestra, simply won’t be able to be taught in an online format.

“I went into spring break excited to come back, ready to learn new repertoire and start working on the opera with my fellow orchestra members,” Mitchell told The Commonwealth Times. “Now I’m realizing that all of that is going to be placed on hold. While I understand that closing VCU was the best option, it still sucks knowing that I won’t be able to see my friends or play in my ensembles for a while.”

“You can only do so much on your own, within the confines of your house.” — Meera Brown

The department’s two planned one-act operas, “The Impresario by Mozart” and “The Old Maid and the Thief” by Mozart have both been canceled. Mitchell said seniors in the music department likely won’t get the chance to hold their senior recitals before graduating. The dance department faces similar issues, with the cancellation of its spring senior concerts.

“It’s this great collaborative effort and it always culminates in this great show,” said sophomore dance major Joi Brown in a phone interview. “But we’re not gonna be there so it’s not gonna happen which really really sucks because, like, kind of your whole time at VCU is supposed to lead up to that final show for you.”

Brown said that some of her technique-focused classes are taking unique approaches to adapt. 

“Mainly what we’re doing is pairing with someone else in our class and putting together a movement/workout schedule that we’ll do together,” Brown said in a text message. “We have to write about and send it in for some classes.”

Classes are also giving dance vocabulary quizzes, and she’s doing one project where students record dance movements and then combine them into one short film.

These classes rely heavily on utilizing studio space and in-person instruction for professors to model and critique movement. Brown has taken online dance classes on her own time to maintain her practice, but worries that without consistent classwork or adequate space, these skills will deteriorate.

“You can only do so much on your own, within the confines of your house,” Brown said.

VCUarts spokesperson Suzanne Silitch said that the extra week of spring break was primarily for faculty to figure out how to move these highly interactive courses online. Faculty members are aiming to simplify courses and focus on core competencies.  Silitch said the school was striving to make specialized labs and studios accessible to those students who need them.

“We’re looking at everything we possibly can but we also know it’s not gonna be business as usual, or education as usual, you know, but it’s an opportunity to really think creatively and to be flexible and we’re just gonna have to embrace that flexibility and newness,” Silitch told The Commonwealth Times.

Whether critiques will be held depends on the professor’s preferences. Students are encouraged to stay away from campus, including all arts buildings, but the School of the Arts is looking at how to accommodate student needs for studio space and other resources.

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