Upended by COVID-19, undergrad art showcases adapt online 

Illustration by Kayleigh Conroy

Aaron Royce, Contributing Writer

Richmond’s student art scene took a heavy hit from the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, as galleries closed their doors and exhibits were canceled. Upcoming undergraduate spring expos at the ICA, The Anderson gallery and off-campus spaces are no exception, forcing a switch to an online format. 

Not having an in-person spring expo to recognize their accomplishments has left many students feeling disappointed. Senior interior design major Alyssa Chin said in an email that the in-person Capstone was going to be a way for students to showcase their work to people outside of the studio, such as family and friends.

“By not having a physical show, many of my classmates and myself are struggling to find motivation because we feel robbed or cheated out of the chance to showcase something we have been working on for a long time,” Chin said, who anticipated a joint sculpture thesis exhibition with MFA students during their April show. 

Students who prepared for capstone exhibits through expo fundraising have also seen their crafts change.

Sculpture senior Menley Hunt is one of those students. Her work focuses on the act of taking care of others, so working at home has helped her examine that theme in a new way.

“I’m at home, so I’m getting the opportunity to do physical actions and care for people,” Hunt said over the phone. “In that aspect, I’m getting to understand what I’ve been thinking about at another level, especially now when caring for other communities.”

VCUarts is developing an online gallery to replace the in-person shows. Presenting works digitally is optional, and Hunt might not participate, saying she doesn’t think her work would translate well to a digital format because of the performances and audience interaction that go into it. 

“I don’t know how well that would translate, not being there physically for others to see a performance,” Hunt said. “It’s different to see a physical object in-person or in an installation than digitally.”

Originally postponed until May, The Anderson’s second presentation of BFA pieces has been moved to an online format that’s anticipated to launch in June, with additional Facebook “virtual openings” and social media highlighting student artwork throughout the summer. An in-person exhibition for the same artists is projected to occur in the fall. 

“By not having a physical show, many of my classmates and myself are struggling to find motivation because we feel robbed or cheated out of the chance to showcase something we have been working on for a long time.” — Alyssa Chin

In the meantime, faculty such as Stephen Vitiello, the kinetic imaging chair, and painting and printmaking professor Cara Bendetto have been working with The Anderson’s curator Chase Westfall to create a digital gallery for students. 

Students have also been given the option to present works digitally now or physically in the fall.

Bendetto facilitated the BFA exhibits and their senior class meetings. Although some works translate to an online format better than others, she hopes students will participate and wants to be a resource for them in the meantime.

“I’m trying to keep the seniors informed and feeling like they have as many options available to them as they need,” Bendetto said. “It’s important to update them, not only on what we’re doing, but how they’re feeling. That emotional support is your job as a teacher.”

VCUarts has remade its website to feature student artwork while the digital gallery is in development. Student artists can embed photos, sounds and videos on the site to feature their work.

VCUarts spokesperson Suzanne Silitch said that although this semester’s changes from COVID-19 were unprecedented, it creates room for innovation.

“I hope that all of the new ideas that come from this crisis will help us better support and promote our students and the thoughtful, ground-breaking, provoking, and talented work they produce — now and in the future,” Silitch said in an email.

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