Special Update: Academy of Art Response to Pandemic – Closed Campus, Active Online Education, Thriving Hope

In this special update, we take a quick roundup of steps that Academy of Art University and its individual schools have taken in response to these unprecedented times.

The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for faculty, staff, and students at Academy of Art University. It has been a month since the Academy followed the Shelter-in-Place order from the California state government and closed all of our academic buildings in San Francisco. The lockdown’s end is just around the corner, but talks of further extension loom on the horizon.

How are our students, faculty, and staff holding up? Here, we show you how Urban Knights are adapting to changes and overcoming hurdles with evolving and creative solutions.

We are Ready for Challenges

aau response-gallerynightshot_retouched

No one can predict a crisis that forms a new reality and sends everyone to live online. But, as a pioneer in providing top-grade online education since 2002, we have established a comprehensive online education system that allows us to prioritize the welfare of our students, faculty, and staff while having a smooth transformation amid a major crisis

To date, Academy offers online education of over 120 undergraduate and graduate degrees with the same quality of our onsite education to students from more than 50 different countries.

Students can get dedicated support through their online education, with access to numerous content and courses in their chosen majors that are taught by industry experts.

The Academy’s Career Services office has also fortified its staff to further be able to provide assistance to both students and alumni looking for internships or employment, especially once businesses get up and start running again.

Notwithstanding, it is still an undeniably challenging time for our faculty, staff, and students. As the director of School of Illustration described in his interview with NBC Bay Area, it was “five minutes of hysterical laughter,” because we have an established system, but also “five minutes of hysterical panic.” because it is truly unprecedented to shut down the campus and scale up the provision of online education to a much larger number of students for the entire semester.

Thanks to the robust online education infrastructure and determined faculty and staff who have been working hard to resolve various issues. Right now, all of our students have been extending their classes to online seamlessly and completing school projects from home or dorms.

Moreover, we also took advantage of our active online communities for students and alumni to engage with their peers, such as the Discord Group from the School of Animation and Visual Effects. You might be studying or working from a distance by yourself, but you are never alone as a member of our art community.

aau-response-design stations-residence halls
Academy of Art’s Residence Halls have design stations set up in the lobby, and following social distancing protocols, for student use. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

“I think it will even end up transforming how we teach our onsite classes once this is behind us because it has many options for a more exploratory way of teaching things in real-time,” said Pyle. Academy is gaining valuable experience from dealing with current difficulties; therefore, we will improve both onsite and online in the future.

We are United and Evolving

In the wake of the pandemic, we had to change a lot of plans for now and in the near future, such as canceling the commencement ceremony for our 2020 graduates in May and moving the Spring Show online. 

All classes have also transitioned online, a necessary consequence of our San Francisco campus shutting down in light of the quarantine measures. The good news is that the Academy has a sound online education system, spanning all of our 22 degree programs. The transition may have been tedious at the onset, especially for those who signed up for all on-site classes. However, with the system firmly in place and ready for instant use, it was only a matter of moving from the classroom to the internet for the classes to get going.

“Our students are in very good hands!” said Karen Chesna, the Online Coordinator at the School of Jewelry Design and Metal Arts. “We have had in place for years a strong online program that parallels our onsite offerings, and many of our instructors have already taught and written online courses for the school.” 

A New Reality, A Virtual Alternative

Since we shut down all classrooms, labs, and studios, our faculty and staff have been endeavoring to make sure students receive the same quality of education as before and continue learning without skipping a beat. Furthermore, plans and measures continue to evolve according to necessity, in order to carefully accommodate students who need to use necessary onsite facilities, studios, and equipment. 

“The department has assembled tool and supply kits for the students to use during this time, and has even moved some jewelers’ benches to one of the dorm sites, available for use by appointment,” said Chesna.

aau response-JEM-Shuangning (Sici) Li
Rotative by Shuangning (Sici) Li, BFA JEM

Meanwhile, the School of Music Production and Sound Effects for Visual Media faculty have been working on modifying the curriculum and helping students get access to resources they need for school projects, such as computers and temporary free licenses of particular software.

“We have been adapting our onsite classes to online. Thanks to my amazing faculty who have worked with me to find creative solutions to optimize our online curriculum and keep our students engaged,” said Bradley Hughes, Director of School of Music Production and Sound Design for Visual Media.

Unique Challenges, Creative Solutions

Some students who are graduating this year might find themselves facing unique hurdles when it comes to completing their graduation projects. For example, the Capstone Programs for students at the School of Art Education were almost wholly contingent on the student’s outside field experience, which have all been canceled.

Therefore, faculty have been collecting a list of pertinent videos of art education programs in museums, community centers, schools, etc. that can replace actual observation and teaching to a certain degree.

At the School of Photography, instructors are resorting to creative solutions to mitigate the disadvantage of teaching photography virtually. 

“Classes that have been focused on studio instruction have come to life due to the creativity of our instructors. From Apple “Facetime” tutorial meetings conducted in real-time by our instructor John Vano for his location lighting classes to instructional videos created by instructor Chris Hardy for his studio lighting classes, our instructors are able to create exciting and very workable solutions to the new challenges,” said Timothy Archibald, the Associate Director of School of Photography. 

“Shelter in Place Portraiture” by Rachelle Steele, MA Photography

Departments have also been working with companies to host virtual portfolio reviews, panel talks, and career events to benefit students and alumni who are job searching during difficult times. 

Last month, the School of Animation and Visual Effects hosted an online portfolio review event with Blue Sky Studios, Inc., which received great feedback from both the company and students.

“Meeting Heather Larkin from Blue Sky was an incredible learning experience. I got great tips on giving my boards a more cinematic feel, improving my skill set, and how the specificity of subtle character emotion can give a scene more depth,” said, Karl Kenneth Uriza, a storyboard major student at the School of Animation and Visual Effects.

If you missed this one, don’t worry, there are many more virtual events from different departments that have been scheduled, including events to instruct international students at Academy on how to deal with the changes and uncertainties in applying or renewing students visas. 

You can find the full list of our virtual events here

Academy Cares

As an essential part of the art and design community in San Francisco since 1929, Academy of Art is also dedicated to giving back and helping our communities, especially during hardships and crises like this. Now more than ever, our students and faculty show what artists and designers can do as creative problem-solvers.

aau response-Max_3D_Printed_face_shield1 (1)

Max Niehaus, Industrial Design Shop Manager at the School of Industrial Design made face shields out of the 3D printers at Academy for front-line health workers and got approvals from doctors, nurses, and technicians at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. “We’re going to launch a call to action [to all] our 10,000 of all our Academy of Art students, many of them who have 3D printers at home,” explained Niehaus, Industrial Design Shop 7Manager at the School of Industrial Design, in an interview with ABC7.

The School of Fashion has also called upon their students with sewing machines at home to help their respective local communities by creating face masks. An instructional video has been created by recent alumnus, Chris Cabalona, which the students can use as a guide for their project.

Marybeth Tereszkiewicz, the Director of the School of Art Education, encourages students to design community-friendly online curriculums for those who have to homeschool due to the closures of school. “We are encouraging our Capstone students to possibly having their onsite curriculum pivot to an online version – as to help the communities who are now needing to educate their children at home.”

aau-response-art ed-allison_schoen_3
Art Education pre-distance learning

Virtual Workshops

Many other schools are now providing free and open access to a wide selection of art and design workshops and training for many who wish to learn amid these trying times. Below is a rundown of selected recurring events that are open to the general public during the stay-at-home period.

School of Photography

  • “Digital Concepts with Michael Sims” where Michael creates videos to introduce digital photography concepts and software, and “Photography from Home” weekly blog post hosting on the school’s blog http://www.aaulens.com

School of Fine Art

  • Every Friday at 12 pm PDT, “Social Distance Learning” with the award-winning artists and the Executive Director of Painting & Printmaking at the School of Fine Art, Craig Nelson. Live Link: https://www.facebook.com/craig.nelson.73744
    • Every Thursday at 3 pm PDT “movie afternoons” – featuring different fine art and sculpture related movies, past class demonstrations, and interviews. Live link: https://youtu.be/urW1i9H5Vkw

School of Visual Development

  • Every Thursday at 7:30 pm PDT, “Movie Appreciation Night” on Discord. One of our well-known instructors will discuss different aspects of Visual Development for a chosen film, followed by a screening of the movie. Live link: https://discord.gg/u3S6u2Y

School of Illustration

  • Every Friday from 1 to 4 pm PDT, Location Sketching workshop: One of our reputable instructors will share their screen and use Google Earth to take everyone to different locales where they will stop and draw. Live link: https://art.zoom.us/j/779668926

Art is the Highest Form of Hope

aau response-ILL-AndyChiang_drawing1
Commuters by Andy Chiang, MFA Illustration

Though this pandemic will be going on for a while and leave permanent marks on us, we shall stay optimistic. 

The things that are canceled will be resumed, just like our commencement ceremony, which has already been rescheduled to December this year.  Don’t worry, it will happen.

“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”

Maya Angelou, Acclaimed American Poet

In the meantime, if you feel isolated, lonely, or even depressed, maybe, look into the heartfelt warm and touching artwork from our students and faculty. The power of art will cheer you up, dispel your dismay, and bring you some hope.

There is always something to look forward to in art and design, as the renowned German visual artist Gerhard Richter once said: “Art is the highest form of hope.”

In this pandemic, we are with you.

Academy of Art University remains steadfast in its mission to provide quality education for its students, rain or shine, pandemic or not. Our academic year for 2020 moves forward despite today’s unique challenges. Request information from our admissions representatives on our offered art and design degrees, options for online education, and arrangements for on-site classes. We are accepting applications now for summer and fall. We’re looking forward to having you in our art school community.

Hero image: “Shelter in Place Portraiture”, MA Photography Rachelle Steele