Can you believe it’s already August? If you’re anything like me, life during COVID-19 has been a bit of a blur. In many ways it feels like we were just getting used to writing 2020 when the pandemic hit. As Miley Cyrus might say, “it came in like a wrecking ball,” and now here we are bidding adieu to summer and preparing to enter a school year like never before. With schools throughout our state each developing their own unique plans to meet the needs of the families they serve, parents throughout Rowan County are finding themselves in a wide variety of circumstances. The extremely popular Virtual Academy will provide parents with a safe, at home learning experience for the entire school year. Public schools and charters are offering a mix of in-school and remote learning. Many of our private schools have jumped right in and are bringing students back 5 days a week with social distancing measures and personal protective equipment in place. While local educators have been working all summer to create a learning experience that is innovative and engaging, exposure to the arts will continue to be a challenge.
Art in Times of Crisis
Throughout the history of the world the arts have been a tool for learning. As early as 700,000 BC, humans began using art to document the world around them. Art has been a tool for documentation, discovery, understanding and teaching. By the 2nd century, religious institutions embraced the need for visual imagery as they began sharing their message with the masses. Art spans all cultures, all languages, all ages and religions. It is a bridge that allows us to come together even when we are far apart.
Jumping forward, art provided much needed insight into our communities during the Great Depression. So important, in fact, that in 1935 President Roosevelt developed the Federal Art Project to administer arts-based employment projects and commission artworks. According to the National Gallery of Art, Roosevelt believed that “the arts fostered resilience and pride in American culture and history” and “saw the arts and access to them as fundamental to American life and democracy.”
The work produced through the FAP now serves as a tool which highlights the conditions of our country and its citizens during this important period. Through this art we are able to visualize a time when Americans were in crisis. We can not only begin to identify with the struggles of our oldest family members but also to recognize that even in times of great crisis, there is hope. While COVID-19 is certainly no Great Depression, it has presented many challenges and changed the way we view the world around us. It is crucial that we take the time to recognize what is happening in our homes and our communities, and art serves as a wonderful outlet and opportunity to do just that. Jeffrey Brown, senior correspondent and chief arts correspondent for PBS NewsHour, reminds us that “art pops up in unexpected places and spreads online, bringing people together even as they are keeping themselves apart.”
Be An Original in Rowan County
Currently under Phase 2, North Carolina museums, galleries and theaters remain at a standstill and unable to open to the public, limiting our access to visual arts, music, theater and film during a time when it is critical to our understanding and emotional well-being. As parents and students seek out ways to engage in the arts during this time, the world wide web provides an array of resources.
Established in 1995 through a unique interagency agreement between the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education, the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) provides many wonderful resources to parents, students and educators. A comprehensive list of resources for students and educators from kindergarten through college can be accessed on their website here. While learning about art in a virtual forum may begin to feel a bit dull, making art doesn’t have to. To quote Mr. Albert Einstein, “logic will lead you from point A to point B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” So, moving forward, let’s think of some creative ways to embrace the arts at home. One fun way to start is by checking out the COVID Art Museum (@covidartmuseum) on Instagram which features a wide variety of COVID inspired artwork that is sure to spark your creative energy. I am in love with these creative masks by artists Jiabao Li, ALe Nemi, and Ingrid Emaga.
Locally, artists from the Art + Design program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College are documenting our new normal in many unique ways which identify both the language and objects of our new world. These pieces by artist and writer Eve Laikyn highlight the popular language of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other works, like this still life drawing by RCCC’s Art + Design student Natalia Leigh highlight and symbolize some important moments and objects. Her work titled, “A Day Before Tomorrow” was selected as Best in Show at Mooresville Arts Gallery’s 2020 Springfest Exhibition.
And as we consider those among us who are the most vulnerable to this virus, I cannot help but to consider the biannual “Faces of Trinity Living” exhibition. This show, which was hosted last year at Waterworks Visual Arts Center, features the portraits of residents at Trinity Living. In a world where we have been charged with protecting our most vulnerable, the meaning and impact of this show seems more important than ever. Every year, artists in Rowan County and specifically those from Salisbury’s Rail Walk Studios and Gallery take part in this show. This year’s show includes the beautiful works of Rail Walk Studios and Gallery artist Marietta Foster Smith and renowned portraiture artist Mark Stephenson.
Art as a Tool
As we move forward into this new normal, parents, students and educators may find themselves feeling bogged down by all the necessities. Art often takes the backseat to math, science, and ELA in educational situations where we are already overwhelmed. But if we take a moment to consider the importance of social and emotional learning, of creative thinking, of historical significance and of future innovation, the arts emerge as a critical force. Not only do the arts promote observation, awareness and engagement, they also serve as an important catalyst for emotional expression and understanding. In this new world, that type of emotional awareness and critical thinking feels more important than ever.