Art students build foundations in virtual settings

VCUarts freshman Olivia McCabe works on charcoal portraits for her art foundation drawing studio class in the Bowe Street Parking Deck. Photo by Enza Marcy

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

Art foundation student Ken Truong found his way into the VCUarts program this year after exploring both biology and business majors. He watched his friends experience the introductory program, called AFO, and was looking forward to a similar hands-on experience himself.

“Prior to the pandemic I thought I would be all around campus, running to the workshop,” the junior said. “Now all I do is just spend late nights in front of my computer.”

Truong said his space research class sometimes has in-person requirements, but he typically tries to avoid campus due to COVID-19 risks. The class is meant to build students’ understanding of 3D art. He said he wants to take advantage of AFO resources, such as the workspace at Bowe Street Parking Deck, but feels conflicted because he doesn’t want to put anyone at risk.

The top floor of Bowe Street Parking Deck is a studio space for AFO students. According to the VCUarts website, the facility includes computer labs, a woodshop and a media room. 

Despite his disappointment with the shortfalls of online classes, Truong said he can’t put the blame on any one person. He knew he wanted to enroll this semester regardless of the virtual format.

“I couldn’t put things on hold because I have siblings who need to go to college,” Truong said.

First-year VCUarts students are required to experience all majors through the foundations program. Though virtual learning has proven to be challenging, many are still pursuing their degree.

Art foundation student Olivia McCabe is in two of the program’s hybrid classes — space research and drawing studio. Photo by Enza Marcy

Freshman AFO student Olivia McCabe knew she wanted to go into communication arts before arriving at VCU, but she is still required to complete the foundations program. She said so far, her classes are going well.

“Not being able to do art outside my dorm without having to lug it to Bowe Street or anything is kind of inconvenient, but I’m making it work,” McCabe said.

McCabe said transporting her art occasionally doesn’t feel worth the trouble, but it’s necessary for working on things in the woodshop.

McCabe expected online classes when she committed to VCU, but she said her schedule changed just a few weeks before the semester started. McCabe’s space research and drawing studio classes, which are required for AFO, are hybrid. The rest of her classes are online.

McCabe said she’s happy with her experience in AFO and believes the format is working well. However, she’s eager to have class in person.

“I believe I’m getting the best I can right now,” McCabe said. “Being a new student, I don’t really get what the original AFO experience would be.”

VCUarts is hosting a variety of free, virtual events throughout the semester, including visiting artist lectures and a faculty speaker series. The next guest artist is Paul Sacaridiz, who will talk about his relationship with art and nonprofits on Oct. 19. 

Sophomore communication arts major Grayson Bradstock said his only in-person class is a university college course, which is outside of VCUarts. He said he doesn’t love paying the same amount in tuition as last year for fewer resources, but his parents didn’t give him much of a choice in returning to school.

“I just thought I would suck it up and do the online courses,” Bradstock said.

Tuition for the fall 2020 semester was $12,094 for in-state undergraduate students and $32,742 for out-of-state undergraduate students. All art students pay an additional $1,850 fee for both in-state and out-of-state students. Neither price increased from the 2019-20 school year.

Bradstock said he finds it challenging to do his figure drawing class over Zoom. He said the model for the class sits in Bowe Street Parking Deck while the professor tells them to strike certain poses on video. 

“It’s really grainy, and you can’t really see the people well enough,” Bradstock said.

With the majority of classes online, Bradstock said he can’t imagine what it would be like to take virtual AFO classes and called it “not much of an experience.” Regardless of the class’ modality, he said having a designated place to create art yields the best results.

“My experience revolved around Bowe Street,” Bradstock said.

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