In this time of a global pandemic, Minnesota State University, Mankato’s art department is facing specific difficulties, but they are continuing to thrive.
For example, in order to maintain sanitary precautions, building hours have been shortened as well.
“During a normal semester, we have 24/7 access for students to use Nelson Hall,” ceramics professor Mika Laidlaw said. “We are limiting the use of the lab to the weekday daytime.”
Like most of Minnesota State University, art professors are either limiting the number of students allowed in their classrooms or moving their courses completely online. This results in the art department having the inability to create a strong, close community between the students.
Professor of Printmaking, Joshua Winkler recalls, “The students really enjoy settling into the printmaking studio during normal times, spending their nights and weekends in the space socializing and building a community of artists. Just being in the space and becoming comfortable in the space can really help them figure things out. The pandemic demands that we spend as little time in the studio as possible. This makes it more difficult to foster community and collaboration.”
Faculty member Ellen Schofield recognizes this as well.
“This semester it is much harder to create that same sense of community. I have been trying to replicate the experience with small group Zoom critiques, but it is hard to replicate those moments where you walk by a classmate simply to chat about each other’s work and brainstorm together.”
Professor of Installation and Drawing, Liz Miller, expresses similar concerns, saying, “I really love getting to know my students, and this semester I spend less time with them in person… It’s also hard to translate some aspects of art making to an online format. In my installation art courses, so much of the experience is about site, audience, and teamwork. All three of those elements look very different during a pandemic.”
More importantly, Miller fears art majors are missing opportunities. Under normal conditions, art majors are able to present their works in public exhibitions and critiques and have in-person guest artists.
Despite all these hardships, faculty members say students are doing a superior job adapting to the new norms of art classes.
“Overall, I’m really impressed with the students,” Winkler said. “I can only imagine the difficulty of being a student right now. It must be challenging to build relationships, socialize, and focus on their classes while the heaviness of the world is so present in their everyday.”
“I have been really amazed by how flexible, tenacious, and engaged everyone has been with the transition,” she said. “I think everyone knows this is not ideal. But there is an understanding that we can get through it. People seem to be putting in great effort and trying their best even though these are challenging circumstances … It’s just delightful for me to see how art students have leveraged their creativity to find ways to keep working during the pandemic.”