Furman art students were getting ready for the culmination of their college experience: the senior art show. They would learn to create a gallery installation, share it with family and friends and maybe sell some pieces along the way.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to regroup, draw on the depth of their creativity and find a new way to reveal their art to the world. The result is nothing short of spectacular. Instead of a physical show, students presented their work online, crafting “Beyond These Walls,” a website that showcases each artist and the senior projects in a powerful way.
“Every year, they are in a senior seminar and they have to work all year on their senior work,” Marta Lanier, associate director of the Master of Arts in Strategic Design program in Furman’s art department, said.
Lanier works with students to create the show’s atmosphere. It typically opens in April on Furman Engaged day, which moved to a virtual format this year because of the pandemic.
“We went back to the drawing board,” Lanier said. “It’s definitely a challenge. When you get back from spring break, seniors (typically) have a week and a half, maybe two weeks, and then they’re setting up their show.” Because of the pandemic, she said, “A lot of them had to completely regroup. They really pushed through and found a way to make the most of it. I’m really proud of them.”
Emily Pruitt, one of the student artists, volunteered to design the website. One bonus of moving to a virtual format is that several of the young artists linked to online shops to sell their work.
Pruitt’s project was “I Am Special” cosmetics, a brand idea she created that seeks to promote awareness and inclusion of women and girls with special needs. Her packaging and marketing design lent itself well to the online format, even though it was not what she had planned for her senior year.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “With makeup packaging, there are so many little things you can do, so I knew that would give me a chance to display my skills.”
Gabby Villagran created a carved woodblock project, “Healing,” that represents the growth that can happen through therapy. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling and work as an art therapist.
“I chose to stay in Greenville over spring break to work on my piece,” Villagran said.
By the time spring break turned into quarantine, Villagran was the only person left in her workspace at Furman. With one block left to finish, she borrowed some tools and relocated her work to her dining room table. Rather than displaying the pieces on a wall, she created her display using software. The pieces were to have wood shavings underneath, representing what is chipped away during the healing process.
“It was definitely very disappointing at first, but a lot of people are in a lot worse situation than having an online art show,” she said.
For Villagran, the dream of showing that senior project is still alive.
“I still have boxes of wood shavings that I’m saving, in case I get to display it,” she said.
She might get that chance. The department is offering its fall-semester show, usually held during homecoming, to the seniors, in hopes they’re able to come back to campus to share their work.