COVID and the Fine Arts: How the AC Community is Coming Together to Produce Great Things

COVID-19 has changed the course of this school year, but faculty and students involved in the fine arts on campus have not let this new factor slow them down. Continued support of the fine arts is vital to our community as artists of all kinds on campus stay determined to power on.
Elizabeth Funderburk is a freshman studying theatre at Austin College. When news of the virus reached the US, she was in the process of wrapping up her high school career as a performer. “We were in the middle of working on a show at my high school. We had to shorten it a lot and perform on Zoom. I think it was recorded, but it definitely felt different. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.” Upon arriving at Austin College, she began an introductory theatre class. “We all have to wear masks in class and everyone is six feet apart. At any given time, we might have five kids on Zoom, or might have half the class on Zoom.” She emphasized the change the learning style had gone through, stating that, had it been a normal year, “we definitely wouldn’t be how we are now, but I think it’s the best we can do with the situation. It’s not really a ‘get up and do things together’ class right now, how it usually would be.” For Elizabeth, the best part of theatre comes with the collaboration it requires. “It’s that feeling of being on stage with everybody after working on so many rehearsals. The feeling of ‘you got this,’ feeling connected with the cast.” Although the duration of these changes is not yet known, she hopes that full collaboration will return soon. “I’m definitely looking forward to things going back to normal. Can’t wait to be on the stage again for the first time in six months.” Although the adjustments haven’t been easy for the theatre world, Elizabeth believes that it has brought some positives. It’s pushing people to find more creative ways to perform from their houses. It’s a time for self-reflection. A step back” Moving forward, she has hope for the future. “The best thing to do is continue to follow the rules. Stay healthy and keep us healthy as well.”
In the Music Department at Austin College, students are faced with changes as well. Omar Vasquez is a freshman in the Roo Band and chamber orchestra, as well as the Sherman Symphony, a local group of musicians. For Omar, music has always been a staple of his life. “It’s pretty much what defined my life up to here. When I found out about the chamber orchestra and lessons offered by the Music Department, I decided to stick with it. The AC program is really great, it lends itself to anyone wanting to do anything.” As a result of COVID-19, rehearsal has changed drastically. “We meet once a week, and are learning easier pieces than we normally would.” To maintain his skills, Omar practices two times a week alone. “We can’t all be together, there are too many of us, so group sizes are much smaller. We also have to wear masks when we practice, and for band, we have new masks with slits in them so we can play.” Like Elizabeth, Omar has stayed positive in bizarre times. “We’ve adapted to what we have. We’re doing the best we can, and we’re gonna keep on going. It makes you flexible.” He says that the best way to support the Music Department right now is to be an engaged audience. “We run live streams, hopping on those is super helpful, and if we’re able to perform in person, show up! Safely!” 
The faculty at Austin College is taking on the new challenges with grace. Dan Dominick is a professor of music and department chair. “For my ensemble, with the orchestra, it was a really big adjustment because the full orchestra can’t rehearse together. There are too many people and not enough space, and some of the players didn’t feel safe around other players because some instruments put out a lot of air to do what they’re doing. We also couldn’t have a full audience. So our business model was completely shot.” The Music Department has undergone large changes to maintain important COVID-19 protocol, despite its ability to perform how they have in the past. “We’ve had to move to record smaller chamber groups individually, then we’ll put those together to create an hour-long concert that will be uploaded to youtube. We’re trying to stay relevant to our audience, to our sponsors, and players by doing what we can do. We’ll stay connected that way.” For Dominick, the new way of life has brought a new perspective to his work. “In teaching, it’s not bad to relook at what your teaching style is or what you’re including in a classroom each semester. Reassessing what you do can be really important.” He mentions the hard work faculty, staff, and students have put into keeping each other going: “Everybody is really doing an excellent job trying to stay safe, trying to be kind to each other, giving each other a little bit of grace. This is hard to teach right now. It’s also hard to study, it’s hard to learn in all the different areas, and we’re all just doing our best.” As for how our community can support the fine arts at Austin college, he encourages members of the community to do what they can.  “Spend some time attending our virtual concerts, if the Art Department is able to hold an exhibit, go out and look at the art. When the theatre is able to do something, take a chance, put your mask on, and go and experience it. Support whatever we’re able to do.”

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