“It is nice to spend time creating and the ‘social contract’ of committing to this group ensures I have this small window of time where I can allow myself to be an artist.”
During the sudden closure of schools during late March of 2020, many visual art teachers in Maine found themselves even more isolated than is typical during a brick and mortar school day. To support teachers during the quarantine, a group of artist educators collaboratively designed and implemented Open Art Teachers Studio: Quarantine Edition.
Open Studio consisted of five one-hour live Zoom sessions in the spring, and again in the fall, of 2020. Creative prompts, such as “Breathe,” “Portrait,” or “Paint by Music,” were sent to participants ahead of time along with suggestions for materials.
Sessions started with a very brief welcome and review of the prompt. Then, artists immediately dove into 30–45 minutes of making, side by side on their screens, with music playing in the background. After creating, participants introduced themselves and shared their pieces if they chose. To end, everyone was invited to post their work to an online bulletin board (padlet.com), to document the art and record ideas for use in the classroom.
Visual art educators from all over Maine attended. Artist teachers creating individually while together—even from different physical locations—led to fruitful ideas and sharing of teaching strategies. Some teachers realized new ways to use Zoom that they had not thought of before. One teacher, who lived alone, expressed how much she looked forward to the community each week. “It was good to see people’s faces and to feel connected.” Another veteran educator remarked that the sessions reminded him of art teacher critique groups that existed early in his career.
The process of making and sharing together, even in a short period of time, sparked ideas, enhanced self-care, and built community for visual art educators in Maine.
“I liked the sharing. We have such a wealth of information and it is difficult to share, especially for those of us who are a team of one.“
“I really needed this today. It pushed me to create outside my comfort zone, which I should do more often.”
Above left to right: Jennie Driscoll, Hope Within the Meteor Show, 2020; Elise Row, Letting Go #3; Elizabeth Keenan, Tsunami of Anxiety, 2020.
Article Contributors: Bronwyn Sale, Martha Piscuskas, Iva Damon, and Melanie Crowe are artists and educators from the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI), a program of the Maine Arts Commission.
Image at top: Mackenzie Davidson, Rivers of My Body, 2020.