Maggie Betkowski ’21 Arts Editor
The spread of coronavirus has caused Mercersburg Academy faculty to re-evaluate the way that their students will continue to learn. The first big switch has been the implementation of virtual classes, now held on Google Hangout. Slowly but surely, the Mercersburg community is becoming used to this new, and weird, normal. While subjects like math, science, English, and history can transmit instruction by video, how are art students continuing to earn credit for classes? More importantly, how will they express their artistic development while away from campus and in quarantine?
The answer is through a wide array of methods. Many art students have reported that the majority of the work they do for their classes takes place outside of the virtual classroom. While limited resources and space are very apparent obstacles to overcome, students and teachers are finding new and creative ways to continue doing art.
Improvisation, as in every class, is a requirement for producing art at home, especially with limited resources. Kristen Pixler’s Photography 1 class has been using their phones to create the photos that they discuss in class. Students work independently, allowing them to be creative in the ways they use their devices to capture images. “We get some work done in class, like taking photos in class and then submitting them in the shared drive for our classmates to see. We also have a project to do outside of class,” said Caroline Wilkinson ’23. Photography students watch videos that Pixler makes explaining lighting, angles, and other visual elements; then they take photos that incorporate the lesson of the video and post them in a shared Google drive to stay connected to one another.
Regarding remote instruction in Advanced Studio Art class, Jay Howley ’21 says, “I don’t get much done in class, because those meetings act as check-in sessions where we talk and sometimes critique. It’s really laid back, and it’s great to see that the class dynamic and vibe hasn’t changed much.” As a year-long course, Advanced Studio Art students must continue to produce a cumulative oeuvre of pieces. With limited tools, they have no choice but to indulge in what instructor Sydney Caretti calls “survival art.” They are challenged to find random items in their houses, maybe ketchup and mustard, playing cards, or q-tips, to create art. “I’m learning to improvise now with the limited resources at home, which is a blessing and a curse,” Howley says. Supplies, including acrylic paints, brushes, and canvasses, have been sent to each of Caretti’s Painting and Studio Art students, so they can continue to practice their skills as if the class were being held on campus. While the materials are helpful, they amount to very little compared to what students have access to in the Burgin Center for the Arts, so improvisation is an indispensable part of continuing to create.
As for the performing arts classes, the inability to act or sing together seems to be the mounting issue in trying to cast and perform plays with multiple characters. Like all classes, however, creativity and improvisation seem to be key. An Acting II class studying Shakespeare continues to “read plays and sonnets in iambic pentameter and [Elizabethan] English and watch Shakespeare’s plays and review them,” said Riley Schermerhorn ’22. The class is currently assessing ways to perform Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay virtually. Emma Shuford ’22 says, “The original plan was to cast ourselves and create and perform a shorter version of the play.” Being creative and thinking outside the box will definitely lead to some successful performances, even if virtually.
Dancers continue to practice and perform virtually as well, even as lack of space present a considerable barrier to overcome. Without large studios or a stage, dance students are finding ways to creatively circumvent these obstacles. “We have Zoom meetings on Mondays and Wednesdays. We will either participate in a workout or take a class. For example, this Monday we had a ballet class, and this Wednesday a hip hop class is being offered by Joie,” says Reese Wilton ’22. “Having these classes is helping to improve my technique and outlook on this difficult situation.”
Something most artists have in common during a crisis is that they use their art to express emotions. Schermerhorn said, “Acting and being in this class really helps with the stress of being home. I can work on performing and acting without being on campus.” Wilton felt similarly: “It is so nice to have these classes because dance is such a nice outlet for my emotions. It also helps so much to see some of my closest friends.”
While art courses are definitely not the same conducted virtually as experienced on campus, the independent creative processes in which students are immersed is building their support for continuing participation in arts. “In three years of high school, this is my first real arts class, and I would definitely say that it has lived up to expectations, virtual or not,” said Jack Quagliarioli ’22, a Photography 1 student. After previously attesting to being “not much of an artistic spirit,” he says that he will “no doubt” take more arts in the future to expand his creative horizons.