June 07, 2021

INSIDE/OUTSIDE: Student arts show unmasks pandemic impact

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
virtual art gallery

“Inside/Outside: Students of the Arts Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Even the Statue of Liberty wears a mask.

So does the earth. And so do dozens of people also portrayed in masks: masks made of headlines, masks depicting a peaceful harbor, masks as fashion, a bronze statue of a young girl now wearing a paper mask, and masks filled with words of anxiety, stress, fear and loneliness. A self-portrait photo of a young girl shows her wearing a mask surrounded by yellow CAUTION tape.

But for all the masks and other impacts of the pandemic, students have unmasked their feelings for the NYSUT virtual arts showcase, “Inside/Outside: Students of the Arts Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Gritty and glorious art, music and dance invite reflection in this first-ever show, set up virtually as an actual tour through an art gallery. The show premiered on Saturday under the direction of NYSUT’s subject area committee on the Arts and committee member Joan Davidson. Davidson, a retired arts educator and member of the United Federation of Teachers, coordinated the exhibit — pulling in student art from nearly 30 schools.

INSIDE/OUTSIDE: Students of the Arts Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic

From dealing with drastic loss and confronting fear, isolation, anxiety and sickness, to finding sustenance in nature and in creative expression, students have opened their arms and hearts to art as a way to channel hope and to wrangle with worry. They use grid techniques, perspective drawing, mixed media, found objects, animation, photography and more to make their stamp on the pandemic even as it has marked them. They style under the influence of Magritte, Dali, Chagall and Monet, photographers, poets and modern art. Some pieces are as surreal as the pandemic itself.

Artwork from elementary through high school show a girl facing empty shelves in a store; a line drawing of a boy on a rock, face in his hands, with words of worry carved into a tree behind him. A young student has portrayed a doctor inside a rainbow, shouting “No! No! No! Get out virus!” Another piece is a series of three self-portraits in black and white of a girl trapped in a box.

Some of the young artists show their response to the social justice movements happening during the pandemic, from the impact of Black Lives Matter to political unrest, in photographs and drawings. Another student artist has simply sketched the dog he got during the pandemic, which he credits for being his salvation.

Then there is the fourth grader from Queens, a young gap-toothed boy standing in his bedroom with a dreamy white gauze curtain as a backdrop against his flannel shirt, singing “What a Wonderful World.” His breathy voice has early timbre and the words he sings promise those skies of blue and friends shaking hands as declared by Louis Armstrong.

Synchronized dancers, wearing masks, ask, “Will I forever be dancing alone in my room?” as they bend and turn to music.

“The arts are such an essential part of the development of a child,” said Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president. For some it is a pastime, for some a passion, and for some, it will become their profession, she said. The arts are a reason many students get up and go to school — and the reason many stay in school.

In addition to its creative power, it has social-emotional importance.

Research shows the robust impact of the arts on both mental and physical health, said NYSUT staffer Terry McSweeney, facilitator of the Arts Committee. “As schools return to in-person instruction in the fall and some sense of ‘normal’ is restored, we need to think how the arts can be part of the recovery process for students and recognize the value of the arts in the fundamental mission of education.”