In Trying Times, There is Hope to be Found

March 27, 2020

By: Mark Shanda

Unprecedented…in the past if I ever had the occasion to use that word it was usually in reference to a world premiere or an outstanding artistic experience being offered. That word was not used to describe the day-to-day activities of my colleagues at work nor at home. However, that word seems to best describe the situation in which we all find ourselves academically, professionally, and personally.

The necessary response to the COVID-19 situation has impacted every aspect of our lives requiring each of us to modify our teaching, work from home, shelter in place, and socially distance ourselves from our students, friends, and family. This response hits especially hard all of the artists and scholars who make up the faculty, staff, and students in the College of Fine Arts. Typically, in a worldwide crisis, it is the artistic community that provides for our audience solace in theatres and auditoriums, that gathers collaboratively to address the challenge being faced, and strives to serve as a connector across boundaries of great diversity. The avoidance of human contact and connection goes against our very nature, disrupts our artistic focus, and creates a palpable, unsettled feeling in ourselves and our community.

As trying as this time is for each and every one of us, the directions to alter our lives in such a dramatic manner appears to be our very best hope for minimizing the impact of this pandemic.
No one is happy with the decision to alter our teaching delivery, to eliminate the opportunities to thrill audiences with our performances or to not be able to inspire contemplation by those who view our visual artwork. We need to recognize that there is no business as usual and our students, for whom we care so deeply, are experiencing a level of loss that is nearly unfathomable.
So how do we respond? We start by reinforcing the creativity that is inherent in all of our art forms and apply that approach to new ways in our teaching and learning enterprise. We base our adaptations on the core Student Learning Outcomes that form the foundation for our classroom, studio, stage, and auditorium experiences. We acknowledge that the ways we have always done things at the end of the school year are just not possible, but alternatives that still connect and engage using the remarkable technologies available to us will not replace what we desire but can serve as a viable substitute in this challenging time. Finally, we can find new ways in which as an artistic community we respond, creating a new pattern that is both challenging and exhilarating.

We cannot be exactly what we were, but I am confident that we can rise to the occasion and be even more than we think we can be right this minute. Working together, we will get through this. Our resilience may be tested, but our mission continues to reflect a fundamental belief that the arts are essential to the life of the individual and the community. Be well and take care of each other.

— Mark Shanda is a Fellow and Past-President of USITT. He is a professor of theatre and dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky.