What the Coronavirus Shows

Installation view of the Galleries at Kent State University.

The School of Art Collection and Galleries at Kent State University are currently made up six programmable spaces and a teaching collection of a little over 4000 objects. We have a small budget for the amount of programming we do, roughly 35 to 44 exhibits a year depending on the year. We get around having a strict budget by planning two to three, even five years in advance sometimes. It’s challenging, but also tons of fun to run these spaces, work with students and faculty, and get to think big art thoughts on a national and international level.

In the spring months most of our programming revolves around the students, from our student annual exhibition, now in its 110th year (I believe), to our BFA senior thesis exhibitions and our MFA thesis exhibitions. The gallery spaces start to change on a weekly, if not daily basis in the months of March, April and May. It’s a wonderful rhythm, one I’ve enjoyed for twenty years now as a graduate student and as a gallery director. The coronavirus has stopped that rhythm, for now. While that is hard for me, because my role as a gallery director offers me an aerial view of the school, I can see it is extra hard for my students and for my colleagues in the School of Art.

It’s one thing for me to help create online content related to the School of Art collection or current, future or past exhibitions; It’s a completely different thing to try and teach sculpture, ceramics, painting, printmaking, jewelry/metals/enameling, drawing, textiles or glass through the interface of a computer screen. When I think right now of my students and colleagues working through this situation, I think of moments like watching advanced weaving students loading up looms into a van that has been loaned to them so they can keep working, and motivational talks put online by a colleague reminding students to keep working and ideas on how to do it. I think of the MFA students and the MFA catalog we worked hard to produce that features a collaboration between art history students and graduating studio art MFA students. I think of the tears of joy and stress in students’ eyes when we were planning their BFA senior thesis shows and also their tears of sadness at not being able to hug me goodbye because I have a five-month-old at home and they were afraid of getting him sick. Mostly, I am filled with pride in my school as I’ve watched students, faculty and administrators work, strain and try to adapt to this situation. Like artists everywhere, we’re used to leading our communities into a brighter tomorrow, which is exactly what we’ll do in response to the coronavirus.

I often tell students to work hard and to try to take advantage of expertise of the faculty. More than that, I tell them to find a faculty member whose work interests you and that “if the school went away tomorrow, would still be making the work they’re making right now.” I don’t tell them who I think those people are, I just encourage those that ask to engage more and discover. What the coronavirus shows is that every one of my colleagues, full- or part-time, is that type of art historian, art educator or artist and reminds me just how privileged I am to work with them.

When we are able to get back to putting on exhibitions at some point this summer, my two graduate assistants and I are working to put up an exhibit about the fiftieth anniversary of Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed, followed by a curated exhibit of ceramic work by artists from all over the region fired in a wood kiln at the home of Faculty Emeritus Brinsley Tyrrell. Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed was made on the campus of Kent State University in January of 1970. The School of Art Collection has several unique objects related to Smithson’s sculpture and we are looking forward to being able to share them. Both exhibits will take place in the KSU Downtown Gallery located at 141 East Main Street in the heart of Kent.


141 East Main Street

Kent, Ohio 44242