Pandemic pushes arts online

An office design project by interior design major Logan Williams.

This design project by interior design major Logan Williams is among many whose work can be viewed on social media pages for the Department of Design.

During the course of a normal semester, students, faculty, staff and local residents of the Radford community are able to treat themselves to a wide array of arts and entertainment events put on by the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Each term, the college offers over fifty public events ranging from live music, dance, theatre, fashion shows, art exhibits and more. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the country, the College of Visual and Performing Arts is working to bring art to the public while continuing safe social distancing practices.

The Department of Art recently hosted online gallery receptions using the Zoom application for several art exhibits. Professor Ken Smith, Interim Chair for the department, worked with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) to host several virtual gatherings to celebrate the hard work of students graduating with degrees in the arts. Smith says that he wanted to try to replicate a gallery opening so that students would not miss out on the ability to display their work to the public. “Right after the March COVID-19 shutdowns, the New York Times ran an article about all the high-end New York art galleries moving to an online format. So I checked out a couple of them and realized we could totally do that,” said Smith. He added that the process was not without challenges. “Our original effort for the MFA opening exhibition was invaded by Zoom-bombers from 23 different countries and, unfortunately, they were able to create substantial disruptions. That same weekend Zoom initiated new security protocols, and Radford’s IT folks were able to help us set up the remaining shows in a much more secure manner.”

Other departments within the college have since followed suit, with virtual Zoom meetings replacing traditional face-to-face celebrations typically held at the close of each semester.  Art, music, dance, and theatre and cinema programs each held separate virtual gatherings with faculty, staff, graduating seniors and their families to commemorate the achievements of their new alumni. 


BFA Graphic Design seniors attend the online reception for their senior exhibit on May 1, 2020.

The new normal has led to traditional gallery exhibitions being replacing by online displays. The Department of Art has hosted several online galleries for graduating seniors in their BFA, MFA, and BFA Graphic Design programs. The Department of Design recently featured a virtual senior exhibit exclusively through the program’s Facebook page. The exhibit was launched as a series of social media posts featuring designs and information from each senior in the graduating class. Assistant Professor Laura Kimball curated the exhibit. “Each post highlights a senior student, tells the audience about them, and spotlights their work. Students were able to submit up to five projects with images, portfolio links, and videos,” said Kimball. Katie Oakes, a graduating interior design senior said, "It was nice to have a digital senior show because so many more people got to see our work." Kimball said that the show was a success, resulting in a significant increase in views for Facebook traffic to their departmental pages.

"Performing History: Women and the Vote" a collaboration between Radford and Virginia Tech's theatre programs was converted from a live performance to an online exhibit due to the pandemic.

The pandemic’s unique challenges have also forced the Department of Theatre to explore new approaches to performances. Assistant Professor Molly Hood has been collaborating with Virginia Tech Associate Professor of Theatre and Arts Leadership, Amanda J. Nelson on a collaborative theatre event commemorating the centennial anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement. The original plan was for students and faculty from the two theatre programs to give a series of performances at the Alexander Black House in Blacksburg, Virginia. Once the coronavirus upended their ability to collaborate in person, the two professors decided to pivot the work to an online format where audiences can still learn about and view stories connected to the movement. The “Performing History: Women and the Vote” exhibit launched on May 18, 2020 and includes written research and original scripted performances from students participating in the project.

And while the arts press forward to find new ways to connect with audiences in the era of coronavirus, there is much left to be done. With the university’s recent announcement that it will reopen in fall 2020 to include full operations of on-campus housing and dining services as well as face-to-face instruction, the College of Visual and Performing Arts is actively planning what campus events will look like in the fall, including event policies that support social distancing and other protective measures. University leaders are also working on contingency planning to be able to adapt to the constant changes being introduced by the pandemic. Margaret Devaney, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, says that the college will continue to bring art to the community in the safest ways possible. “While this situation introduces new challenges for all of us, our college embraces new technologies across its various disciplines, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to offer meaningful experiences to the campus and community when classes resume in the fall of 2020,” said Devaney.


May 20, 2020
Jason S. Hutchens, Ed.D.