Rowan art students shift their work to the virtual world

Annual art and design exhibition held through an online gallery.

Elmira Assatova-Perkins creates a pastels portrait, acrylic drawing of her musical vision, and a photograph for Rowan College at Burlington County’s 22nd Annual Student Art & Design Exhibition. (Elmira Assatova-Perkins/ Special to The Sun)

When Mt. Laurel resident Elmira Assatova-Perkins graduated from Rowan College at Burlington County with an associate degree in art this year, she was ecstatic. But one glaring question remained in the back of her mind: What’s next?

Walking up to the podium and receiving a diploma after countless hours of hard work is a life steppingstone. But most students don’t anticipate graduating in a pandemic.

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For entry level artists, it completely rearranged the way they created and promoted their work, and that led Rowan to come up with a way for art students to showcase their skills from this year.

With minimal in person gatherings, Rowan campus Curator Jessica Kane, who puts together art showings for the students each year, worked with the college to establish an online gallery.

“We got almost 100 submissions of artwork, which is the same as if it was in person,” Kane noted. “Students were really just looking for a place to showcase their work or a place where it can be seen.”

Prior to the pandemic, Rowan held an annual Student Art and Design Exhibition for the spring term. Students participating in any art course at the college were eligible to enter their work into the exhibition, and the submitted pieces would then be featured in the gallery at the Mount Holly Rowan campus. The work included graphic designs, paintings, drawings and jewelry. 

“We call in outside jurors to come to the gallery and choose the first, second, and honorable mention in each category,” Kane explained. “We have the instructors in each category present the awards to the students, and they would get their certificate that night.” 

The challenge of transitioning the annual gallery to the virtual realm isn’t the same physical process as before COVID, but it kept the students engaged, even while an in person award ceremony was out of the question. 

Kane overcame the obstacles by having a winner from each category announced virtually on the Rowan Facebook page during May.

“We’re trying to build a little bit of excitement that way, since we don’t have a big award ceremony and an event,” she said.

As for the students, Perkins entered three pieces into the gallery that features a variety of pastels, acrylic, and photography. Although she’s proud of the art she created, Perkins wasn’t able to have the critiques and feedback from classmates this year because a majority of courses were online.

“I’m lucky, I have a small studio in my house, and I was able to work in my own setting, at my own pace,” she said. “But other students may not have that kind of luxury, so that was definitely a struggle for them and the studio was closed on campus, for the most part, so they couldn’t even go there and work alone.” 

Besides not having access to materials and a proper learning atmosphere, the mental barrier of finding self-motivation was difficult to grasp as well. Delanco resident and Delran High School graduate Nicole Willard-Moore, who entered graphite work into the online gallery, had to find a way to conquer the artist block. 

“It’s hard to find the drive for things, even if you want to do it, even though there is more time, you just lose the drive to do it,” she acknowledged. “You just have to try to get back into the rhythm of it.” 

Tom Burcher from Mt. Laurel, whose jewelry is featured in the Rowan gallery, started to market his items through online platforms such as Etsy, a company focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. 

“The source I mostly use is Etsy right now, because it’s just so convenient,” he said. “I just have to step up my game with the quality of presentation, and the quality of the pictures I take, because while they may look okay, there are people out there who take those pictures for a living.” 

The importance of a gallery is more than just showcasing work; it offers real-world experience to students who take a chance on their craft potential, Kane said.

“I was afraid that if we didn’t continue doing [the gallery] in some type of way,  students would stop seeing the importance and not think it was a big deal to continue,” she added. “I’ve been a student there and I’ve shown my work. If it wasn’t for that, I would have never gone to other galleries.”

To see works in the 22nd Annual Student Art and Design Exhibition, go to

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