Spotlight: Creativity in Quarantine
Rosemary Hickman, Semmes Foundation Education Manager
Each year, Spotlight celebrates the amazing achievements of student artists inspired by a work in the Museum’s collection. When schools closed this spring, the culmination of the 2020 Spotlight on Sue Fuller’s String Composition #W-253 seemed uncertain.
With over 40 teachers engaged in Spotlight preparation and many returning schools planning projects, McNay educators anticipated record participation for 2020. From January through to spring break, I visited over 20 schools to teach about Spotlight and even more came to the McNay to see String Composition #W-253 in person.
After spring break, everything changed. Schools closed. The Museum closed. Tours and school visits were cancelled. For several weeks, we clung to hope that schools would reopen, and students could resume Spotlight projects in time to celebrate at the McNay in May. In time we realized that recognizing the tremendous efforts of Spotlight students and teachers required a new strategy.
On the first official day of distance learning for most districts, I sent out a survey to gauge where schools were on their projects and if they thought it was possible to continue from home. I was surprised by the responses. Overwhelmingly, students and teachers requested that the Spotlight Celebration take place, even at a distance.
Physically separated from their students, art rooms, computer labs, and works-in-progress, teachers could have taken a raincheck. Instead, they forged ahead in innovative ways. Teachers came up with projects that students could do at home, put together (and sometimes delivered!) art supply kits, organized virtual field trips, and asked students to reflect on the process.
Via video conference, we planned for a virtual celebration. Students submitted pictures of their artwork (both in progress and completed) and responded in writing or video to questions about Spotlight. The McNay Multimedia team combined the clips for an online premiere. The student responses were amazing!
Many students found that making art helped express the feelings of anxiety or stress during the stay-at-home order. Others said that the online celebration gave them something to look forward to when so many of their end-of-year events were canceled. Still others offered messages of hope for all of us.
This fall, we will open the first of two Spotlight in-person exhibitions featuring the student artwork inspired by Sue Fuller’s String Composition #W-253. The exhibitions showcase works made at home and at school by these admirable students who like artists before them made beautiful things with what they had.