Caption: The VISA Art Stores at Brock University has been providing access to course materials to students for more than 37 years.
Half the battle in creating a beautiful piece of art is finding a spark of creativity and having the skills to bring it to life. The other half, however, is having access to the right materials and equipment to turn that vision into reality.
Aspiring artists and scholars studying Visual Arts (VISA) at Brock University have continued to hone their skills despite the pandemic thanks not only to dedication to their disciplines, but also to staff and faculty who have made it possible.
Studio Art instructors at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA) have been challenged to reimagine drawing, painting, sound and video courses to suit an online setting. That has also meant ensuring students have access to the materials and equipment necessary to continue their studies.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive, resulting in experiences that might not have been encountered by students in a pre-pandemic semester.
The extensive efforts of the VISA faculty have been supported by two key players: Max Holten-Andersen, Instructor, Media Resource Co-ordinator, and co-ordinator of the VISA Equipment Kiosk, and Arnold McBay, Instructor and VISA Department Facilities Technician, who manages the VISA Art Stores.
Central to the course work of Visual Arts students, the VISA Art Stores have provided Brock students access to art materials related to drawing, painting and sculpture courses since the mid-1980s. The Equipment Kiosk, established in 2015 after the move to the current MIWSFPA downtown campus, provides students with access to digital and analogue photography, sound and video equipment.
Both outlets are usually staffed by student assistants during the day and evening, six days a week. Students visit for their materials and equipment needs, as well as for advice and mentorship from the managers, who are also both VISA instructors.
With the switch to online course delivery, McBay and Holten-Andersen were met with the challenge of facilitating materials and equipment support for students in a manner that met provincial and Brock pandemic protocols, and without the students being on site.
Fourth-year student Rea Kelly knows first-hand how important access to creative tools are for her degree.
“Having the VISA Art Stores at the MIWSFPA has become a necessity for my four years at Brock as a Studio Art major,” she says. “I cannot count the number of times myself or my peers have run out of paint or drawing materials mid-class and have had to run to the art store for materials. I can’t imagine the school without it.”
Answering the call for a solution, McBay developed kits in consultation with faculty that include all of the art supplies and materials students require to complete their course work and develop their art practice.
The kits are available for convenient curbside pick up for local students and are shipped to those outside of the Niagara region. For students wishing to remain in their hometowns while continuing their educational experience, the kits have been essential.
Similarly, Holten-Andersen, aware of the necessity of audiovisual equipment for supporting photography, sound and video courses, has added to the initiative.
McBay and Holten-Andersen have established a central distribution point in the MWS151 Foundation Studio at the MIWSFPA. The room is large enough to allow for required physical distancing and is staffed by one student monitor during weekdays.
Access to the room is limited to one student at a time using all pandemic protocols including required personal protective equipment. As a result, students can safely visit the distribution centre and access art materials and digital equipment, all in one place.
“Despite the limitations of not being able to access the usual range of materials available in the VISA Art Stores and Equipment Kiosk, students have been able to meet all their project objectives through the distribution of materials kits at the pickup centre,” McBay says.
Students have had to get creative with the supplies they have available to them.
“These are real-life challenges that artists might face in their career, and circumstances students would not usually encounter in an academic experience prior to the pandemic,” McBay says.
For audiovisual equipment, students are able to submit online equipment requests that are fulfilled within 24 hours, using MWS151 as the pickup hub where items get loaned out and returned. This method has shifted the equipment consultations from an in-person approach to a remote approach via email, phone or video conferencing.
“At times, consultations are extremely necessary as I am able to provide expertise on what is the most suitable equipment for a production; and most importantly, what accessories are needed to properly support a production,” Holten-Andersen says.
Although students have gained new experiences from the current circumstances, the two instructors look forward to resuming their previous mode of operation once it is safe to do so as per University and public health protocols.
While the new system is working, Holten-Andersen says conversations had during in-person occurrences of the past are simply irreplaceable and certainly missed.
“It is a precious moment to notice the realization in a student’s eye as they tap on the creative opportunities that professional equipment can grant,” he says.
McBay echoes this sentiment.
“We very much look forward to when the VISA spaces come back to life with the vigour, curiosity and vibrance students bring into our campus.”