Despite the shift to online learning, ARC’s art shows must go on

How American River College Fine Arts classes have weathered the lockdown


Despite the lockdown and subsequent school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many American River College art classes have managed to adapt to the situation thanks to online conference calls in the fall semester 2020. Patricia Wood (pictured here) stands in front of the open Kaneko Art Gallery at ARC prior to the pandemic. (File photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone)

By Alexander Musa
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This Spring, American River College, and campuses across the United States went into lockdown in direct response to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. ARC’s Fine and Applied Arts faced the same challenges that others did for the lockdown: find a way to transition courses to online learning.

According to Angela Milano, dean of fine and applied arts at ARC, certain arts courses requiring hands-on experience and instruction were more affected by the lockdown than others.

“We had some course cancellations this spring, centered around our sculpting classes, including welding,” Milano said. “You can’t expect all students to have welding equipment at their homes.”

Milano also explained that culinary, acting, and theater classes were also greatly affected by the lockdown.

“We aren’t able to provide some professional courses in a strictly online environment,” Milano said. 

But despite the initial difficulties during the spring semester, many Fine and Applied Arts courses were able to successfully switch to online learning.

“Ceramics was canceled this spring, but for the fall semester, professors have been making videos for students to watch,” Milano said. “They are working with the district office to find ways to schedule times for students to safely drop off work on campus for it to be ‘fired’ and completed.” 

According to Milano, even a number of acting and theater classes have transitioned to online learning, and have been able to find ways to achieve course objectives despite being unable to meet in person.

“Sam Williams in our theater department is planning for a play online,” Milano said. The American River College Theatre website is currently advertising performances for “Fires in the Mirror” in October 2020.

The department also added new course offerings for students.

“We were able to add some more drawing classes, and those are in heavy demand,” Milano said. “The addition of Art 300 classes was one of the big changes for this semester.”

Despite initial difficulties in the spring, some professors were already experienced with online learning and were able to transition to online classes. Dyne Eifertsen, music professor and arts department chair, was one faculty member whose classes and campus events were canceled by the March lockdown.

I was in the theater setting up chairs and stands, when the word came down,” Eifertsen said during an interview. “It’s like being ready to go to bat, and then they call the game.”

According to Eifertsen, the faculty received immense support from the campus to get the music classes online.

“I’ve been teaching online for many years now, so I’m used to this,” Eifertsen said. “But many other professors didn’t have that experience. Fortunately, our technology staff ARC is fantastic. Our department really didn’t cancel anything [this fall]. We were able to convert all of our classes online!”

As a result, every student ensemble is expected to produce music online for the fall semester.

“We’ve developed ways for students to submit individual recordings through Canvas,” Eifertsen said. “We can take the individual tracks and sync them up to create a full ensemble for a single piece of music.”

The new process has led to some unexpected but welcome boons for individual students in the music programs, according to Eifertsen.

“We’re getting to hear people that we’ve never really heard before by themselves. So there’s a silver lining to all this, because we’ve been able to learn more about the individual students as performers,” Eifertsen said. “Most of the time, we hear students in an ensemble as a group.”

The Kaneko Gallery was another part of the ARC campus greatly affected by the lockdowns, according to Patricia Wood, director of the gallery and professor of art.

“The lockdown happened on March 13th and we were about to change exhibitions. We were scheduled to put up the next exhibition that coming weekend,” Wood said. “The [next] exhibition was going to coincide with a celebration for the new STEM building. It had to be canceled unfortunately.”

The initial lockdown also affected the student competition exhibition, where judges have typically chosen 14 student art pieces for purchase into ARC’s permanent art collection. According to Wood, entry is traditionally limited by an entry fee and space limitations of the gallery. The lockdown forced the event online, with some additional changes.

“We decided to drop the competition part and let all students into the show since we weren’t limited on space,” Wood said. “We also didn’t charge an entry fee since the exhibition was only going to exist online.” 

In the end, seven pieces were purchased for the permanent art collection, and the winning students were able to drop off their pieces at a June event at the ARC Ranch House.

“Everybody wore masks and no one got out of their car,” Wood said. “It was a social distancing drive-through art drop off!”

With the lockdown extending into the fall semester, other physical showings at the Kaneko Gallery were ultimately canceled. But the Kaneko Gallery will continue with online exhibitions in their place. Currently, the ARC 2020 Faculty Exhibition can be visited online, along with a gallery focused on student artist responses to the politically-charged events following the killing of George Floyd. Another exhibition, “Dystopia,” is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Despite the challenges, the event has pushed the gallery to be more proactive and creative in making use of online exhibitions, according to Wood.

“Some exhibitions just wouldn’t translate well to an online format or some artists were just not interested in having an online show,” Wood said. “We have had to come up with a new schedule and postpone what we previously had scheduled. We will eventually reschedule all of the exhibitions we had previously scheduled, but we are waiting to hear when we will be allowed back on campus.”

Despite the many challenges presented by the COVID lockdown, Angela Milano says she feels that her division has risen to the task.

“I am very proud of the faculty in my division,” Milano said. “They have been very proactive at finding solutions for the current situation and have adapted quite well all things considered. But I can say that many professors, and myself included, are looking forward to being back on campus, and seeing our students in person.”