COVID-19 and the social distancing orders it brought about cannot stop The Evergreen State College from celebrating its visual artists at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. The college’s collective ability to adapt and problem solve quickly has allowed it to carry on with its robust studio-based art offerings and develop a series of culminating events worthy of its artists’ fine work.
Michelle Pope, Evergreen’s visual arts operations manager, is at the helm of this effort. She oversees staff and facilities that support all aspects of the college’s visual arts program, including the Evergreen Gallery. The Gallery exhibits works by professional artists throughout the year. At the end of every academic year, the Gallery showcases the works of students from various exceptional arts programs.
“My heart was broken when it became clear I would not be coordinating the installation of the seniors’ work in the Gallery this year,” says Michelle. “This is usually an opportunity for them to prepare their work in a professional setting and celebrate with their friends and family.” She knew she had to find another way to honor their hard work, so she turned to fellow members of the art department and the Media Services team to start planning a virtual senior capstone gallery.
On Tuesday, June 9, 11 artists were featured as panelists in a Senior Capstone Live Opening Event on Zoom. Selected seniors will be showcasing works in mediums such as printmaking, video, animation, sculpture and woodworking. Each artist spoke about their pieces, their process and their experience in their final semester studying art at Evergreen. “Hindsight 2020: A Display of Senior Capstone Works” can be viewed online throughout the summer. A recording of the live event is also available on Evergreen’s gallery site for anyone interested in hearing the artists speak about their work.
Alithea O’Dell is a printmaker and letterpress artist. She is one of the presenting seniors eager to showcase months of hard work alongside her colleagues. “I am really excited to be able to share my work and the work of my peers with people who are not local to Olympia,” she says. Despite the unconventional format of the culminating event, she shares that her sense of collective accomplishment is in no way diminished. “There is something really lovely about growing with your peers and seeing the work that they are able to accomplish. There’s so much communal pride,” she says.
Lauren Boilini, a member of the visual arts faculty, was part of the five-person committee that selected the presenting seniors. She says she is most excited to hear the artists talk about their experiences. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for students to vocalize what they’ve been working on and what they’ve been going through,” explains Lauren. “Speaking about your work is great practice for development as a professional artist.”
This is the first time the Evergreen Gallery has hosted a virtual event to celebrate its senior artists. The Display of Senior Capstone Works is not the only virtual visual gallery offering from Evergreen. Student artists of all levels were invited to participate in the “Student Works – Group Show,” another online gallery available to the public. Visit the web page to peruse pieces of metalwork, woodwork, mixed media and more, including artist statements, from 19 Evergreen artists.
A third virtual gallery offering is an immersive 360-degree experience called “Retrospective: An Exhibit of the Evergreen Art Collection.” This installation opened at the Gallery in February. Michelle worked for months curating a wide variety of pieces from five decades’ worth of Evergreen’s permanent collection, so closing the Gallery just weeks after it opened was difficult. She is thrilled not only to showcase the installation virtually for the Evergreen community but to share the installation with a broader audience. “This whole situation is really a trade-off,” Michelle explains. “Going online with our Gallery means higher exposure for both ‘Retrospective’ and our student artists.”
Michelle wants people to understand the importance of making and sharing art in this era. She, Lauren and Alithea share a sense of hope and curiosity about where the COVID-19 upheaval will take the presentation and consumption of visual art. In many ways, it has real potential to make works of art more accessible to people who can’t make it to a museum or gallery in person. There is no doubt that the present cohort of student artists, art faculty and staff at Evergreen will be a part of the evolution of visual art creation and presentation on both a local and global level.
To learn more about art programs at Evergreen, visit the Visual Arts Path of Study page.
To see more work by Alithea O’Dell, check out her Instagram, @anchorless_prints. She is also an Organizing Member at Community Print.