The arts go virtual

Annual district show becomes a first-ever digital gallery

Special to The Sun: A dragon by fourth-grader Gavin from Jaggard Elementary School embodies this year’s fantasy theme.

In these times when ordinary life seems anything but, the fantasy theme underscoring this year’s Evesham Township School District art show feels right at home.

Hallucinatory landscapes and magical beasts intermingled with nature photography and still-life studies are part of a tribute to how what was once a jarring adjustment has become our strange, new normal.

It was an unintended instance of art imitating life, but it was fitting for a year that saw the first-ever digital showcase of a 26-year districtwide artistic tradition.

The school district’s Eyes on Art went virtual on May 22, and it was largely because elementary and middle school art teachers couldn’t let the tradition fall by the wayside even for a year.

“None of us wanted to give the show up this year because we know how important it is to the district and the community,” said Marlton Middle School art teacher Kate Gormley.

Gormley credited Jaggard Elementary School’s Darcy Barber with the origins of the idea; Barber, in turn, said it was a team effort born of an art teacher video meeting that helped the traditionally in-person show become an online one.

“The art show is such a big deal each year and I just wanted a way to showcase at least some of what the students had worked on,” Barber said. “It came about just as a way to be able to share that with the community. It features some of what they’ve been doing at home remotely, but we did have six or so months of school where they were creating these beautiful pieces.”

When teachers were allowed back into their schools for a day, the art instructors got right to work photographing pieces for inclusion in the gallery. Months of portraits, 3D projects, fundamental studies and all kinds of interpretations of the fantasy theme gave them plenty of options for showing off everything their students learned and created this year.

Snapping the photos was the easy part. The actual process of each person selecting just 25 pieces to include in the virtual gallery was a challenge for both Gormley and Barber — especially when the usual 100 or so pieces each teacher includes in the show already made for some tough choices.

“We had to do a lot of cutting, which was very upsetting,” Gormley recalled.  “But it was even more of an honor to be chosen as one of 25 from the thousands of pieces of artwork they create through the course of the year.”

“We had to get it down to 25, so it’s pretty impossible to choose,” Barber agreed. “It was definitely more challenging this year than any other year, for sure. There are so many talented students.”

A suite of changes was necessary to quickly adapt the show for its digital debut. Some were inevitable functions of presenting a video that clocks in around half an hour instead of the usual evening-long stroll among K-8 students’ sculptures, paintings, mixed-media works and other creations.

Other changes, like incorporating music from district students’ instrumental and vocal performances, added an appropriate amount of atmosphere and whimsy to the lovingly curated art show.

“As much as this situation is not ideal, there are some really nice things that have come out of it,” Barber noted. “The music in the background, the singing and the instrumentals: It’s just so nice to have that. It gives it an extra touch, it brings the whole thing together, and I’m glad that we could bring that into everybody’s home.”

And the multifaceted finished project was a well-received masterpiece.

“The virtual art show was a great success!” raved the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Danielle Magulick. “We heard wonderful feedback from students, staff, parents and community members who viewed the show.

Gormley and Barber agree, and they were thrilled that an online show welcomed guests who wouldn’t normally be able to get to an in-person show.

“There are some silver linings, and being able to bring the show to people who hadn’t been able to see it before were able to view it in their own homes,” Barber said.

In addition to setting aside some time on May 22 for the district’s virtual classrooms to each watch the video, students were invited to pick from a variety of art prompts and projects to continue their art education and experience, which they submitted to the collaborative software Padlet.

“There were about 2,000 posts on our Padlets from students who shared the various art tasks that they participated in Friday,” Magulick said.

And the art teachers are grateful to be part of a district that supports and encourages its art program. Barber herself is a district alumna and recalls that program as a longtime hallmark of Evesham schools.

“They’ve just been so supportive of the arts for so long,” she said. “That’s the reason I wanted to come back and teach here, is that support of the art programs.”

And while Eyes on Art is an opportunity to enrich students’ appreciation for and understanding of fine arts for a well-rounded educational experience, Gormley said this year’s switch to  an online gallery had a real-world lesson all its own.

“It shows the importance of flexibility, being able to adapt to unexpected situations,” she explained. “For us to take our show and go to a different format, it was a lot of work. Being able to adapt is a really good lesson for them to learn.”

Visit evesham.k12.nj.us/departments/curriculum_instruction/remote_learning_highlights to enjoy this year’s Evesham district art show.