It’s strange to look at my last post, dated March 5 and discussing CAA events in mid-February, and think, “Oh, we were so naive!”
Two days after that post, my dear friend Ayesha Durrani arrived from Pakistan to spend a week on the Bethel College campus as a visiting artist. She exhibited new work in the Regier Art Gallery, she gave a public presentation about her work and about the history of miniature painting, she spent several class periods talking with college students in art history and religion classes, and she conducted workshops in paper marbling with painting and drawing students. We spent so much wonderful time together, but each day, the news on US and Pakistani media about COVID-19 caused increasing concern. Ayesha was able to leave here a day early, on March 13, and looking back, it seems remarkable that we were able to make her trip happen at all. A few days later and it would have been unthinkable, so we are both grateful.
Because then the upheaval set in. My Bethel College classes quickly moved online, and speaking engagements at Washburn University and Hendrix College were postponed til further notice. The Mountain-Plains Biennial at the Salina Art Center opened only virtually; my artist residency in conjunction with the exhibition didn’t happen, though I did meet with interim director Gretchen Boyum for a lovely recorded conversation. My solo exhibition at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ Outlook Gallery was postponed until 2022. Around the world, students were sent home, professors tried to maintain connection virtually, and families juggled new layers of stress, all while trying to avoid getting sick.
It was disorienting, to say the least.
And yet we are resilient and adaptable.
My students engaged online in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. Our class discussions often became far more robust than they had been in person. Final projects showed thoughtfulness and creativity. A colleague invited me to give a presentation to his fine arts seminar in Fresno, in a digital format that used to feel awkward but that had suddenly become normal to us all. And while various conferences have been canceled, and so many of us took a pause amid the disorientation, by now innovative organizers are planning ways to rethink and retool for online connection, playing the long game and imagining new structures for possible futures.
And with the transition to summer and a pause in teaching, research begins to seem possible again, when in March and April it seemed unfathomable. I’ve received a Visiting Faculty fellowship from the Hall Center at the University of Kansas, which will fund a month of dedicated research with a colleague at KU, planning toward an eventual exhibition. And I just learned this week that a grant application I wrote back in September (half a lifetime ago?), has been funded: a curriculum development grant from the National Art Education Foundation will help me create a new course for Spring 2021, on Slow Art for Fast Times. Now more than ever, it seems like the right time to be slow.