Art shows that can’t be seen

Nic Hooker stands with his artwork in the CU library.

Nic Hooker is a senior studio art student whose senior show has been up in the Calvin Coolidge Library since November of 2020. 

When Hooker came into the library to check the display, they found some of their work had fallen from the wall, a sculpture was knocked off its podium, and cards about the show were left untouched. 

“It wasn’t good to feel like no one had viewed my work the four months it was up,” Hooker said. 

Normally, senior art students will curate a show, set it up and hold a reception to showcase and celebrate their work with the public. 

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hooker’s experience was very different. 

Since the Castleton COVID-19 guidelines only allow tested students and staff to be on campus, it has limited who can see Hooker’s show. 

“I wanted my family, friends from college, people from where I work, and people in the community to see my work but ended up only having two of my college professors see it. I had everything planned out for a reception, too,” Hooker said. 

Hooker isn’t the only one feeling this way. Friends and family were also upset at not being able to celebrate the accomplishments. 

“They wanted to see my work as well but knew it was better to avoid going to the campus when they are not allowed to. So, it’s mixed feelings for those who did want to go to the gallery,” Hooker said. 

And Hooker is starting to wonder if the work is actually being seen by the students and staff at the college since the library isn’t as busy as it used to be. 

Stephanie Traverse, access services librarian, said that there are a lot fewer students coming into the library. She said not many people are going into the gallery to look at the show, but students are still using it as a place to study. 

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the library can only hold a certain number of students in the building at a time. 

“We haven’t come close to meeting our 50% capacity limit,” Traverse said.

Phil Whitman, an art professor, said other seniors’ shows were affected by the pandemic.

“We had two seniors scheduled to present their culminating exhibitions. With all classes moved online and people prevented from being on campus, we had to change our plan and these two students produced ‘virtual’ exhibits. These were basically presentations of photographs of the artwork, organized in the order in which a viewer would have experienced them in the real gallery space,” Whitman said. 

He said that this semester, three art students will show their work in the library’s gallery. But these students are adapting ways of showcasing their work. They too will create a digital exhibition that will show their work through photos and videos. 

“Documenting shows like this is good practice anyway, and over the past year, galleries and museums throughout the world have had to reinvent how they share exhibitions with the public. There have been some really immersive online exhibitions, and in some ways, a greater population is actually able to experience these exhibitions. But since art demands to be seen in person to be fully appreciated, I do think something has been lost during the lockdowns,” he said. 

Students are feeling that loss. Going through four years of work to make your last mark on the college is a very grueling process for many students. It can also be an emotional one as it is the moment many art students look forward to since their freshman year. 

“One, there is the loss of our graduating senior art majors being able to share the accomplishment in person. An opening reception, which is both a celebration of the work AND the artist, has been put on hold. Second, much of the campus community misses out on the opportunity to see art being made by one of their peers. I think it’s really important that students, faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as the visiting public, get to experience the innovative art being made at Castleton. The public exhibitions aren’t just for the art students; they are for the entire community,” Whitman said.

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