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Closing the Distance with Fine Arts Week
Joan Lange

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, anesthetics. Anesthetics 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.

Several 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 Lit Mag 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 plays.

Range of Ages, Cultures, and Voices
Seeing the range of talent from grades K-8 was heartwarming. In the virtual Eikon Art Show, 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. Pop-up performances showcased the enthusiastic talents of young pianists as well as displaying the astounding musical prowess of an 8th grader’s rendition of
Haydn’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 performances.

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.

This article was originally published on Association of Independent School Librarians, AISL Independent Ideas and then in the Fall 2020 issue of The Delphian.

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