The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of large gatherings put a temporary end to the way we traditionally experience performance and visual art. But creative people beget creative solutions, and there is no shortage of either at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts and Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, the Fine Arts wing of Staller Center.
“My staff and I have been calling our patrons during this crisis to check up on them, and each and every one has told us that they very much miss coming to the theater as it is a huge part of their health,” said Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center for the Arts. “Many have specifically mentioned their ‘mental health,’ so clearly the arts are a necessity, especially during crisis.”
To help accommodate the Staller Center community during this difficult period, the Stony Brook Film Festival, presented by Island Federal, offers a series of award-winning short films from past Festivals. The shorts will be available for free online and will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays every week through June. The first film, 2015’s Italian Miracle, will be released on May 5 at 12 pm, followed by Venice later that week (subscribe here).
The Staller Center has also created a virtual Instrument Petting Zoo designed to help children learn about new instruments and develop a basic understanding of music.
The Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery has put forth similar efforts to accommodate fans of the fine arts.
“Losing the ability to connect with an audience in person in the Zuccaire Gallery has been really tough, especially on the student artists,” said Karen Levitov, director and curator of the Zuccaire Gallery. “For the graduate students, the MFA Thesis Exhibition is their final on-campus exhibition and a chance to showcase the artwork that they’ve been creating in their studios and to have a chance to talk with people about their work, so losing that is really heartbreaking.”
Though Levitov looks forward to the day when the Zuccaire Gallery reopens, in the meantime, the Gallery has worked to offer its art and interactive programs online and connect with its audience through digital means.
To accomplish this the Gallery has posted online the MFA Thesis Exhibition; a Connect With the Artists page that gives viewers an intimate behind-the-scenes profile of the artists and their creative processes; and an interactive and educational Art at Home page that lets art fans of all ages print out a coloring book of Zuccaire artwork, curate their own art gallery and get an introduction to quilting. The Senior Show and URECA Art Exhibition was launched on May 1, and the Senior Show Slide Slam will go live on May 7.
“The transition to an online exhibition has been a challenge, given the anticipation and work done over the last few months in preparation for a physical install,” said Master of Fine Arts candidate Joseph Santarpia, one of two artists exhibiting in “PRESENCE | ABSENCE,” the MFA thesis show of 2020. “It has been equally challenging to rationalize my emotional responses to the macro impact of the pandemic and the micro effect on our thesis show.”
Santarpia added that the many horrific stories he’s heard about the pandemic through social media, family and friends impacts not only his art, but also his being as an artist.
“It’s difficult to acknowledge my own personal frustrations when I compare my experience to the stress- and sorrow-ridden scenarios I’m hearing about,” he said. “All this has made me question the impact of my work and the significance of my place artistically and communally.”
However, Santarpia described the opportunity to connect with an audience digitally as “beneficial and satisfying,” and hopes that audiences continue to call upon their imaginative capacities when engaging with artists digitally. The fact that his artist talk aired live over Zoom to an international audience of more than 100 people offers an early glimmer of optimism.
The Simons Center for Geometry and Physics and the C.N. Yang Institute are also testing the digital waters as a learning tool, presenting a virtual reading of the winning plays in the Science Playwriting Competition on Monday, May 11.
The competition, which is co-sponsored by the Simons Center and the Yang Institute, along with partial funding through the National Science Foundation, brings science and theater together in hopes of finding new and innovative ways of teaching, learning and thinking; explaining complex scientific concepts to the general public; and providing “out-of-the-box” inspiration to writers.
“The fact that the world has been glued to their TV’s over the past month looking for music, theater, dance and anything else they can watch in between watching hours of coronavirus news, clearly shows how important it is during a crisis,” said Inkles. “The arts lift our spirits and provide such a wonderful outlet for our children, especially during these times. We’re all working to do what we can to enable that.”
— Robert Emproto