In mid-March, New York called for all colleges to go remote. Instructed to leave campuses as soon as possible, students since packed up their dorms and re-launched their education online.
Among the thousands affected, art and design students are having a particularly hard time adjusting, with many forced to alter their artistic practices to accommodate the lack of studio space and access to materials.
Miku Sekimoto, an FIT student from Japan, who was in the midst of creating an installation for her thesis project, had to downscale to continue working from her Long Island City apartment. “I won’t have access to the large space, tools, storages, professor, and classmates who helped me. I’m doing body cast, and my room is small; there is difficult access between my room and sink. It’s making a big mess,” Sekimoto explained. “I’m sure it’s difficult, but I hope the school gives me a refund to get another studio or space to work on it.”
Another FIT fine arts student, Lindsay Orlando from Staten Island, told me how she’s going to continue her work in a makeshift home studio. “Luckily, I am working on printmaking right now, so I don’t have to carry large canvases home from Manhattan. I am able to set up a small corner in my room to work things.” However, she won’t have access to the exposure unit (for exposing solar plates) and inks, solvents, and other materials that the print lab at school supplies.
Others, like Rhode Island School of Design student, Julian Linares, will have to shift their practice entirely to continue making artwork. At RISD, Linares was working with metal and wood for sculptures. “I cannot make the physical objects I was planning on creating this semester,” he told me over Instagram’s direct message. “[This change] will force me to take a more digital-based approach for a while.” Linares is now continuing his education from his home in Queens, New York.
One of the biggest concerns for art students is the loss of all the money they put into buying materials that they now won’t be able to use. Rosa Miranda, an FIT Fine Arts senior, spent $130 on metal for a sculpture that was going to be presented in the school’s thesis show, which has been canceled.
Kathryn Flood, a studio art major from Saint Rose University in Albany, also explained how she and her classmates paid a “course fee” that covered materials for the semester. “I don’t know where that money is going now,” she wrote to me.
The primary resources a college provides for art students is essential to their learning processes, will, unfortunately, be stripped away because of the virus. While the situation is out of their control, right now, these students don’t receive any aid from the schools. “[RISD] could refund tuition or equipment fees so I can buy the tools I need, but they won’t. Teachers have offered more in terms of resources from their personal studios than the school many are paying $70,000 a year for,” Linares said.
In addition to a lack of materials and space, students will no longer benefit from the environment a classroom provides. Now classes will take place online, often through Zoom chat rooms and email assignments. While courses like mathematics and history might be more adaptable for remote learning, painting or sculpture is hard to teach or learn online.
“My six-hour painting thesis class is now a video chat of my class painting in their separate rooms. We send my professor photos of our paintings for her to look at, and she helps us from there. But it’s not the same as being in class, getting immediate feedback from her and my peers,” Miranda explained. Miranda has since moved her painting practice to her bedroom in upstate New York, where she continues to work on her assignments via Zoom.
In addition to schools shutting down, museums and galleries have closed their doors in response to the pandemic. Many university students, especially in New York, make multiple trips to cultural institutions to enhance their learning experience. “There were several trips to the New York City galleries [planned] that have been canceled,” Flood said. “This will be a totally different experience.”
As of now, all colleges will remain closed throughout the summer with hopes of returning in the Fall. All commencement ceremonies have been postponed until further notice, and senior thesis shows have been canceled. “Our work is going to be in a catalogue made by the FIT Museum and on a website,” Miranda said. “It’s not ideal. I wish things could be different, but we don’t have a choice because of the situation.”