An Annual Student Art Exhibition Goes VirtualJune 23, 2020
By Shalisha Thomas (AR ’19)
Every year, art students at Arkansas’ Pine Bluff High School (PBHS) exhibit their work at The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (ASC). This year, because of the pandemic, art teacher Shalisha Thomas (AR ’19) and ASC collaborated to create a virtual exhibition. We asked Shalisha how this year’s event came together.
The annual PBHS art exhibition at ASC started long before my time here. Virginia Hymes, who retired in 2017 after more than 40 years of teaching, started the tradition. This is my third year continuing the exhibition.
The overall goal for my students is exposure, to give them an opportunity to show their artwork and discuss it with the community. It also allows the community to see what the students are creating, both in the classroom and on their own time.
The opening for the exhibition would normally be held during the first week in May, but because of COVID-19, we quickly realized we would not be able to do that this year. Chaney Jewell, ASC’s curator of collections and exhibits, emailed me at the end of March, when the social distancing order was extended, about the possibility of a virtual exhibition.
After I agreed to the virtual exhibition, I had to go to my school and gather the students’ artwork to decide which pieces would work best. Under normal circumstances, the students would play an active role in this process, but because of remote learning, they didn’t have much say in what would be included in the exhibition.
Fortunately, I had a great selection to choose from. The students had produced strong pieces for the Black Excellence unit we finished at the end of February. Those pieces were appropriate and relevant, a true reflection of the way the students viewed themselves and the world around them.
After I decided which pieces to use, I took pictures of each one. This process took a little longer than expected because I took multiple pictures to avoid the need to make unnecessary trips back to school. I already had the artist statements saved on my laptop. I just had to organize everything to make the process of uploading the images and statements to the website smoother for the staff at ASC. I also had to record a video to introduce the exhibition. I was not looking forward to that part because I like to work behind the scenes.
The process of taking the pictures, cropping the background of the pictures, recording the introduction video, and sending all of it to ASC took about a week and a half. ASC posted all of the components of the virtual exhibition to their website and shared it on multiple social media platforms. Altogether, it took about two weeks before it was accessible to the public.
The reactions from the community to our virtual exhibition have been very positive! One student let me know that she was “so happy” that her work was featured as an art spotlight on ASC’s Facebook and Instagram pages. A few of my students engaged with the exhibition by restaging (reenacting) their own artwork. Their images were shared along with their artwork in the exhibition and on social media as well.
Everything came together really well. I was very impressed with the way that my students’ work was presented to the community. The finished product was excellent. I really loved it! I definitely look forward to doing this again because we reached people who wouldn’t have been able to view the exhibit in person. I truly appreciate ASC for this opportunity.
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