Closing the Distance with Fine Arts Week

Art by Lily Stankowski (AOS class of 2020).

In a time of quarantine, people are starving for stimulation and connection. A feeling of ennui can overshadow us, and a sense of isolation can harm bonds within communities. Our school found a way to reach out to our community and close the distance through a virtual celebration of Fine Arts. Why are Fine Arts so vital to a school community? A university art professor once explained to me that to better understand aesthetics, consider the opposite, anaesthetics.  Anaesthetics deaden the senses, while aesthetics awaken the senses. We can use Fine Arts to shake us from our deflated moods, enliven our sensibilities, and strengthen a feeling of connectedness. 

Each year, our Fine Arts week includes music, choral, and drama performances, and the library contributes by hosting a Poetry Slam that showcases creative writing pieces selected for our Literary Magazine. Faced with school closure and Distance Learning, our Fine Arts week was
“Reimagined” through a series of digital portals to sample Fine Arts offerings. Here is an example menu of items for our community to sample:

Several digital tools were used to feature daily events:

  • FlipGrid–a free resource for educators, curated individual student videos for both the Poetry Slam and Pop Up Performances. The individual videos were assembled in interactive grids so that families could sample performances.
  • A digital Flipbook software converted the pdf of our Literary Magazine into an interactive view of the featured writing and art.
  • Vidigami was used to create a virtual art gallery, with folders of artwork sorted by grade level.
  • Spotify playlists provided music for students to enjoy during breaks in their school day.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro was used to set up grid views of multiple video clips, so that choral students were able to be heard singing individual parts in unison. 
  • Recordings of student theater productions became encore performances that families could view to enjoy memorable moments from our school musicals and one-act play.

Range of Ages, Cultures, and Voices

Seeing the range of talent from grades K-8 was heartwarming.  In the Virtual Art Gallery, a Kindergartener’s colorful collage sparked joy while colorful landscapes by 7th and 8th graders evoked moods of calm in a field of flowers or sunsets or celebrated the power of nature in vibrant scenes of mountains and seascapes. Popup performances showcased the enthusiastic talents of young pianists as well as displaying the astounding musical prowess of an 8th graders’ rendition of Hadyn’s Sonata. Families and cultures were also featured as a trio of siblings sang a Broadway tune and an 8th grader, her mother, and grandmother performed the Bharatanatyam in a split-screen view. Choral performances were synced in a grid view so that individual voices sang in unison. In the virtual Poetry Slam, a range of student voices were on display: whether travel writing (sharing the excitement of a trip to New York or cultural connections with families in Greece or India); nature writing (sharing the curious wonders of the Bayou); science writing (celebrating the discoveries made possible by the Hubble Telescope); fantasy (a shrinking curse plagues the royal members of a castle); science fiction (unknown terrors lurking in a trip through the Bermuda Triangle); or through personal essays (do you identify yourself with Gen Z or as a sixty-year-old man?). Musicals lit up computer screens in the evening as families gathered to watch videos of student musicals.

Art by Alexandra Madrid (AOS class of 2020).

Closing the Distance

This time of social distancing provokes a range of concerns. Some thoughts expressed in Zines by 7th graders described the sense of living in a “Backwards World,” the strange sensation of attending school on a computer screen and dreading the long summer, rather than looking forward to it. One student mentioned the mundane repetitiveness of life, that life is without “flare,”  while another student expressed a sense of  longing–she could “see” her friends in GoogleMeet, but had to “mask” her sense of loneliness. Our Fine Arts Week was an opportunity for students and families to experience how art in all its forms can close the distance, stir the emotions, celebrate our creativity, and affirm that we are a community that can connect, even in times of isolation.