Sahara Sriraman, Spectrum Editor
Freshman Charlotte Abrams never thought she would learn and grow so much as an artist in her first month at VCUarts. She credits the support of her in-person Art Foundation classes to her progress.
Abrams, an art foundation major, said that she has enjoyed all of her program classes, most of which are in person this semester. She’s loved getting to work with other students who have different backgrounds and art interests than her.
The AFO program is for first-year VCUarts students, and teaches the fundamentals of different forms of art. The program is meant to help students decide what kind of art they want to pursue while working with other arts students.
“You can tell that the staff was always willing and ready to help you and I actually have learned a lot of different techniques, even after only being here for two weeks,” Abrams said.
Completion of the AFO program is required for all students who hope to enter into the design and visual arts departments, including fashion design, painting & printmaking, art education and graphic design. The required classes can be taken throughout VCUarts freshmen’s first year, for a total of 32 credit hours.
Last year, the program offered classes with various modalities; in person, hybrid and completely virtual. This year, all AFO courses are being offered in person.
Teresa Engle, the interim director of communications for VCUarts, stated that studios were offered for students to take advantage of last year. She stated although most classes were online, students were still able to utilize studios, labs and equipment.
“The Art Foundation program continued to offer our studio course curriculum to students as well as provide a robust calendar of student engagement opportunities outside of the classroom,” Engle stated.
Engle stated that at the end of the last academic school year, students filled out an exit survey; 81% of students said that the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t impact their major choice. The AFO program took into account feedback from both students and faculty last year in order to improve the program.
Abrams said that she’s able to learn effectively because of the interactive and in-person nature of her AFO classes this year.
“Especially with visual arts, it’s kind of hard to learn online because there’s no hands-on activity but the fact that all of the classes where I’m learning to create art are in person, it’s been extremely beneficial,” Abrams said.
She said the program has allowed her to feel more confident in her work when she shares it with other people and receives feedback from them, making her classes feel more personal.
“It’s definitely helped with communication, I feel like with me. Especially because they’re all in person, I don’t have to worry about being awkward or anything because everybody’s in the same boat,” Abrams said.
However, for some VCUarts sophomores, experience within the AFO program last year wasn’t as rewarding.
Second-year painting and printmaking student Zoe Perry said all her classes last year were online out of choice, making it difficult for her to collaborate with other students and her professors. She said although she was more comfortable learning from home, she wishes she could’ve gotten the complete learning experience from her AFO classes.
She said she didn’t get to experience a lot of the opportunities that come with being on campus like meeting new people, enjoying after-school activities and creating relationships with students.
“I feel like I missed out on a lot of, not just like gaining skills and getting experience a lot faster than I would online, but also just building a relationship in general with people,” Perry said.
She said that in-person AFO classes would have been more beneficial because her professors would have worked to develop her art skills in person as opposed to through a computer screen.
Perry said a lot of her fellow students didn’t enjoy the fact that they had to try different kinds of art for the program, but Perry knew that it would ultimately help her grow as an artist. She said the program helped her decide what kind of art medium — painting and printmaking — she wanted to pursue.
“I’ve heard students say, ‘I don’t know why they’re forcing me to do this because it has nothing to do with what I want to do in the future,’” Perry said. “But, it’s all adding to your experience as a well-rounded person and artist.”
Perry said there’s not much VCUarts can do to ensure last year’s freshmen get benefits from their classes because most of them were online, but she hopes the school will offer some in-person AFO classes for those who didn’t get them last year.
“If they actually want to do something for the students, the people who took most of their classes online, their tuition shouldn’t be the full tuition,” Perry said.
She said although the learning gap was small, learning art requires collaboration in order for students to become well-rounded artists.