KCAI Community Responds Creatively to Challenges of COVID-19

Since the Kansas City Art Institute’s closing March 12 and implementation of remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college’s community is responding creatively to the challenges of shelter-in-place and social distancing.

Responses and projects include “KCAI Alone Together,” featuring self-portraits humorous, contemplative, metaphorical, dark, documentarian, formal and many in betweentaken by members of the KCAI community during the 2020 pandemic and posted on an Instagram feed hosted by sophomore photography and filmmaking departments. 

What originated as a collaborative assignment initiated by Trey Hock, assistant professor of filmmaking and creative writing and Lilly McElroy, an adjunct faculty member in photography, has expanded across the KCAI community.  

“I was shocked by how many students outside of photography and film sophomores have contributed,” Stella Bonifazi, a sophomore in photography, said in a recent phone interview. “It really went far and wide and students are making new connections through different departments. We all miss our community and this project is a way to come together, share our work and talk about it.”

Karen McCoy’s course, “Art in the Age of Planetary Distress,” changed to address the pandemic by focusing on Walking Art as a potentially carbon neutral creative activity. 

Staying upbeat during the pandemic as an instructor and activated community member is vital for McCoy 

“One of the things I’ve learned from students is that these things need to be approached with levity,” McCoy said, also by phone. “You can’t be down all the time or you get paralyzed. The use of humor is important.”   

Students are now designing and writing scores for 10-minute walks for all to take. They meet virtually to discuss the walks before dispersing and walking on their own. They connect via mobile apps and provide feedback.  

A lighthearted yet challenging walk by Izzy Vivas, a junior double majoring in painting and art history, instructed classmates to use the “Map My Walk App” to “do your best to draw a smiley face using your walk path. Send screenshots of the finished product!”  

Hannah Lee Sun Morrison, a senior in the fiber department, is working at home on her Sun Series of human-scale architectural forms constructed from welded steel covered in yellow skins of patterned fabric and knitted acrylic yarn 

Morrison, who was adopted from South Korea when she was 15 months old, writes in her artist statement: Sun’ was part of my birth given name that my parents decided to keep. Not only is it the source of life, but also a part of a greater system.” 

Center, the most recent iteration inSun Series, is an installation of four open doorways. Two are scaled to the measurements of each of her parents and two are Morrison’s dimensions – today, and when she was a 15-month old baby 

“This work centers on pulling people together, physically, in conversation. The meaning has shifted and is now reflective and responsive to what’s happening with people being cautious about getting too close,” she said 

In an effort to ease the challenges of working at home the Art Institute has established a new KCAI Cares Fund offering financial assistance grants of up to $300 to help students with essential expenses. And college-wide, departments are doing all they can to provide students with supplies and equipment 

“Normally, our policy is ‘nothing leaves the building, said Pauline Verbeek-Cowart, chair of the fiber department. “All of a sudden, we need to provide all we can. All the equipment is out. We’ll deal with getting it all back sometime. We knew we did the right thing to support the students’ work.” 

Heather Lustfeldt

Heather Lustfeldt is a writer, educator and arts professional with a passion for public program development and community engagement for audiences of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Heather lives in Kansas City with her two sons.

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