‘Art Week’ Creatively Builds Community Amidst Socially Distanced Learning

By Morgan Lampman

BOONE, N.C. -- In a year filled with unusual challenges and isolation, Appalachian State students and faculty found ways to face these challenges in an enriching and community-enhancing way. In a collaborative effort to create an experience that worked around the limits of the pandemic, the Department of Art created Art Week, allowing students and faculty to come together,and spend the  week engaged in activities and sessions that offered a slower paced alternative .  

Art Week consisted of alumni panels from different Department of Art degrees,  faculty-led presentations and socials, and Art Drop Day, a scavenger-hunt where students and faculty find each other’s art. 

Art majors Andrew Pardue and Seth Perry-Hanson said that having a strong and supportive community helped them create and imagine new artistic pieces during a semester full of virtual isolation and pandemic stress. 

Pardue, a junior App State student from Wilkesboro, N.C., is pursuing a degree in graphic design and minor in photography He said Art Week gave him the chance to work on his projects without the stress of new assignments. 

“Our professors wanted us to slow down a little bit since we didn’t have a spring break,” Pardue explained. “It was nice to have an opportunity to do that [. . .] we just kind of worked at our own pace.”

Art Week provided more than just a week for art students to slow down. Perry-Hanson, a senior studio art major from Winston-Salem, N.C., said Art Drop Day gave him the opportunity to connect with other art students-something he felt he hasn’t been able to do in a long time. 

“It was nice to have a sense of community.,” Perry-Hanson said. “It was still nice to connect in a physical way, without actually seeing each other in person.”

The alumni panels were scattered throughout the week and covered the career opportunities, tips, and stories from a variety of App State graduates. Many students, like Pardue, felt that the panels offered great insight into what life in a creative field is like after graduation. 

“The graphic design alumni panel was extremely helpful,” Pardue said. “ I have such a clear idea of what it’s like to graduate and how to get jobs, so that’s extremely valuable.” 

The Goal: Helping Students Succeed

Art Week was the collaborative work of Jeana Klein and the leadership team in the Department of Art. Klein, a fibers professor and assistant chair of the department, says the idea started in the 2020 Fall semester after “open listening sessions” with students underscored some of the challenging times of the pandemic which created a  mix of virtual and in-person classes. 

“The two things students said over and over were that they were really missing the sense of community in the department,” Klein explained, “and that they were concerned about the lack of spring break.” 

Due to the pandemic, App State and other UNC system schools didn’t schedule  a spring break. Klein said students with creative majors and minors are constantly working to improve their pieces, and without a break, the mental and emotional pressure to continue creating can cause some students to fall behind and not fulfill their creative potential. 

Klein says the main point of Art Week was to reduce this pressure by encouraging faculty to not assign any new projects or assignments, giving the art students a week to focus on their current projects. 

“Just taking that out of the equation gives students time to work in the studio, to catch up, to get individual help,” Klein explained. “[helped] break that intense structure and [created] opportunities for the community in a range of different ways.”

App State’s Artistic Community

The art community is one of the reasons why Pardue said he chose to come to Appalachian State for his degree, adding that the Town of Boone and the App State offer a welcoming hand to all artists.

“It means a lot to me because there’s not really a strong art community where I’m from,” Pardue said. “Having that sense of belonging here is really nice.”

App State’s Department of Art has fostered a community of artists that supports one another, even during a year when they saw very little of the other artists, and many students know that this support is invaluable. It leads to an environment that constantly encourages student improvement. Perry-Hanson reflected on the fact that even during traditional academic years, students could be found wishing they were able to enter Wey Hall, the Department of Art’s home, during breaks to continue working on their projects. 

“Before the pandemic, people would be upset that you can’t get into the building during Spring Break,” said Perry-Hanson. “It’s definitely a community that builds each other up.”

Published: May 25, 2021 10:24am