Creativity in the midst of chaos

12/10/2020

Student painting

Since 1920, Edinboro University has trained thousands of art educators and professional artists. Rooted in a century of innovative instruction replete with immersive, interdisciplinary experiences, it’s a legacy that not even a global pandemic can disrupt.

What began as a single instructor and one student has since grown into the largest and most prestigious art program in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education. Beyond world-renowned faculty, state-of-the-art facilities and affordability, the departmental camaraderie contributes to an unmatched collaborative atmosphere.

Students and faculty members work side by side in the studios and labs – a tight-knit community of makers bringing their visualizations to life. Blossoming artists – ceramicists, painters, designers, metalsmiths, sculptors and animators – showcase their work in Bruce Gallery. In the evening, student-created films are projected on the exterior walls of Doucette Hall.

“All of our undergraduate students take a comprehensive series of foundations courses to prepare them for study in their concentrations,” said Suzanne Proulx, associate professor of 2D Foundations and drawing chairperson of Edinboro University’s Art Department. “Experience creating art using a variety of media allows artists to think about materials, compositions and abstract concepts more clearly.”

Back in March, the University shifted to online learning due to COVID-19. Pottery wheels slowed to a halt, computers powered down and gallery spaces went dark. For the first time since its construction in 1931, Loveland Hall fell silent.

Faculty accepted the difficult task of adapting their hands-on courses to a remote modality. Students rose to the occasion, using the ingenuity they learned in class to continue their artistic development.

In lieu of wood designs, students in Karen Ernst’s furniture design class were tasked with creating chair models out of cardboard. Sue Amendolara’s metals and jewelry class made jewelry using found materials instead of copper and silver.

“It’s nearly impossible to replicate the tactile learning experiences typically offered on campus,” said Dr. Scott Miller, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the School of Business. “But as our University took necessary steps to keep members of our community safe and healthy, my colleagues did an incredible job introducing virtual programming and modifying their curricula to continue to deliver a high-quality education.”

Virtual events have included visiting artist presentations, guest speakers and online gallery exhibitions. Through the software ArtSpaces, from KUNSTMATRIX, the annual faculty show was transformed into a 3D virtual experience, accessible to art enthusiasts around the world.

“Critical discourse drives the creative process,” said Proulx, who has taught at Edinboro since 2008. “Although the physical separation has been challenging, I continue to be inspired by the tenacity of our students and their unwavering commitment to personal and professional growth.”

Like colleges and universities across the nation, Edinboro has faced declining enrollments, lagging financial support, fewer high school graduates and rising costs. COVID-19 accelerated the need for dramatic budgetary changes in order to position the university for a strong future.

“Due to high technology expenses and other associated costs, art courses are significantly more expensive to offer than those in other disciplines,” Miller said. “Edinboro has a proud tradition in art excellence, and we recognize the vital economic and cultural contributions our art alumni make in our region and around the world. In order to maintain that legacy, we needed to find creative ways to continue our investment in these programs.”

Proulx and other members of the Art Department faculty collaborated with Miller and Dr. Michael Hannan, Edinboro’s provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, to ensure the retention of these important concentrations. The resulting sustainability plan involves an increased fee for studio art courses, establishing a tiered system similar to practices at other premier art schools while keeping overall attendance costs significantly lower.

“At a time when many higher education institutions are making the difficult decision to disinvest in the arts and reduce offerings, Edinboro remains committed to offering a full spectrum of applied media and studio arts courses,” said Miller. “Course-specific fees for these programs will enable us to maintain the breadth and depth of our programs without compromising on quality.”

Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Edinboro’s programs meet the same rigorous standards as the finest art programs in the nation – at a fraction of the cost.

Graduates of Edinboro University’s distinguished Art Department have claimed six Emmys, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and countless other prestigious awards.

More information about Edinboro’s renowned Art Department and a sampling of student, alumni and faculty work is available at art.edinboro.edu.