Inspiration for the project
Back in 2020, I was in lockdown during my final year of university. As I wrapped up my undergraduate degree in Philosophy and History of Art, I was contemplating what to explore in my final year project. Usually, my process for planning a project would consist of in-person conversations with lecturers and course mates. Although with the move to online learning, this process wasn’t quite the same. I found that through the transition to distanced learning, the student community had been fractured. With this loss of community, students’ “interpersonal connections had been weakened” (Kapoor & Kaufman, 2020, p.2).
At a social level, the prolonged lockdowns had negatively impacted students from all stages. First year students struggled to find and sustain a student network, while final year students felt isolated from their peers. Moreover, this decline in mood had presented academic obstacles amongst students too. As the world had been bombarded with the paradoxical rhetoric of necessary self-care whilst also being productive in this newfound ‘free time’, this tension had also proven difficult for students. In turn, with this array of research highlighting the shift in wellbeing amongst student communities, I wanted to conduct a project which adopted a more pragmatic approach.
With this, my project explored how online art workshops could aid student wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following studies on the therapeutic qualities of art, my research highlighted the possibility of art in providing “avenues of hope” for students during this time of crisis (Appleton, 2001, p.6). With art providing a tool for self-understanding, I wanted to run creative workshops to aid individuals to make meaningful interpersonal connections with others. Correspondingly, this illuminated a promising tool of support while students couldn’t connect with other students.
Who took part?
To find students to take part in the online art workshops, I did an open call via my university department, as well as asking friends and their contacts. As the workshops were focussing on wellbeing, the open call highlighted that you didn’t need any prior art experience to take part. The finalised group ended up being seven students, which included both undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of academic backgrounds. These workshops ran for five weeks, and each workshop was a two-hour session.
Once the group of students was finalised, a pack of collage resources was sent to each student prior to the first workshop.
How did the online workshops run?
In hopes to promote student wellbeing, I utilised a free-disciplinary approach towards the workshops. For example, the first week started with the activity of collage to ease the participants into artmaking and to allow myself to gain an understanding of the participants. Then, the chronology and theme of the workshops’ tasks were structured to correspondingly adapt to the participants’ feelings and their artistic skills. At the end of each workshop, we discussed as a group what mediums everyone would be interested in using for the following week. Once collectively decided, I sent out the materials to students for the following session. Likewise, the weekly themes for the session were decided as a group. After a check-in with the group, we collectively decided how we’d use that week’s medium of choice.
The week’s tasks and themes ended up being:
- Week 1: collage making, ‘What is lockdown for you’
- Week 2: drawing, ‘Photos you’ve taken in lockdown’
- Week 3: transfer printmaking, ‘Your room in lockdown’
- Week 4: zine making, ‘Your lockdown routine’
- Week 5: zine making, ‘Your lockdown routine’
Owing to the personal nature of artmaking and the range of artistic capabilities of the participants, an informal learning approach was adopted for the workshops. Without restrictions, I hoped that the participants should create in a way which authentically reflected their personal experience of lockdown and even have new realisations about their experience through this process.
Additionally, during these workshops I emphasised how participants did not need to focus on producing aesthetically ‘beautiful’ artworks (CohenMiller, 2018, p.7). Rather, the students understood that the workshops’ focus were on enjoying the therapeutic benefits of art and communicating on individual experiences of lockdown. So, the group could communicate these personal experiences in their artworks through stick figure illustrations, metaphors or with words.