On any given day, Castleton University’s Fine Arts Center is buzzing with activity. Students are in and out of classrooms, practice spaces, and art labs. They are painting, drawing, sculpting, making music, getting ready for musicals, and intimate performances in the Black Box Theater. But, when COVID-19 came and caused the transition to remote learning, the FAC – as it's affectionately known – went quiet.
Throughout the summer, arts faculty and staff explored innovative ways that they could engage students in hands-on courses and activities, including music ensembles, and other live events like collaborative arts for the fall semester.
What came out of those discussions were ways to rethink how classes and activities that were fundamentally live and in-person could be done in the COVID-era, expanding them from their traditional home in the FAC and bringing them to a virtual setting, and bringing the arts to other areas of Castleton’s beautiful campus. The result was a way to engage with students who were learning remotely while living on campus, while also connecting students learning from home with their friends and activities.
"Music and other performing arts are very difficult to recreate with the challenges of the pandemic but essential for all of us," said Music Department Chair and Director of Choral Activities Dr. Sherrill Blodget. "Music and the arts heal. I have been very impressed by everyone's creativity and willingness to be flexible."
This fall, Castleton’s ensembles were not allowed to meet in-person, with the exception of a portion of Chorale and Chamber singers, who rehearsed with masks and social distance. The choirs met in the Pavilion and outside until it got too cold, and then in Casella theater. They were joined by the rest of the singers on Zoom. The instrumental ensembles met through zoom. Castleton’s ensembles used technology to share the music they worked so hard to create. While there’s no comparison to a packed Casella Theater, the transition to virtual programming allowed alumni, parents, family, and community members to catch a performance who otherwise would not have been able to.
"Being able to sing together, even under these circumstances, was glorious. It was fun to explore areas to sing and dance outside around the campus, and great to collaborate with Maya Kraus and the dance classes for Collaborative Arts," Blodget said. "I was also impressed by all the students in the instrumental ensembles who learned music through zoom and sent in recordings. We are proud of our virtual concerts and hope they bring joy and hope to our listeners."
Technology has also allowed Castleton’s hallmark Soundings program to remain strong during COVID-19. During the fall semester, students were able to engage in a diverse lineup of events delivered in a virtual format, including films, lectures, concerts, and more. The Soundings program will continue its virtual programming in the spring semester, with some events that students have to log into at a specific date and time, with other programming that will be available for an extended period of time.
"Student engagement has always been the top priority of the Soundings program, and I am very grateful that we have been able to continue to engage students in an online format. Though we all miss in-person Soundings events, one positive is that we have added podcasts to our Soundings lineup, a source of information and discussion that had not previously been available in the program," said Marisa Valent, Soundings and Fine Arts Center manager. "We are working hard to share our lineup of events with the community this semester. While we wait for it to be safe to return to an in-person format, we're happy to still be able to engage with our community through these events."